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Opinion
Javier Blas

Russia’s Winter Generals Have Yet to Show Up at the Gas War

Prices remain high but a mild season has so far allowed storage to remain above the levels associated with power blackouts in Europe.

Where is winter when you need it?

Where is winter when you need it?

Photographer: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP

Russia’s winter defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. The bitter season has played such a historic role against the nation’s enemies that it now enjoys military rank, popularly known as General Moroz and General Zima (that is, “frost” and “winter”). In the great European natural gas battle of 2021-22, however, the weather has so far worked against Moscow. If President Vladimir Putin was counting on Moroz and Zima, the commanders have yet to show up at the Western front.

Mild weather has so far crushed heating demand — and soothed the European market panic about supply that saw natural gas prices shoot up to record highs. In recent days, London, Berlin and Paris have enjoyed a spring-like weather. On New Year’s Eve, the mean temperature in north-west Europe was nearly 12 degrees Celsius, about 9 degrees above the 30-year average. A few cities were even warmer: Zurich and Frankfurt stood at 13 degrees Celsius, compared with a normal level of around freezing for both. For Europe, which imports 40% of its gas from Russia, it has been an economic and geopolitical reprieve.