In the spring, the Russian president sent a chill through Europe as he massed heavily armed troops on the border with Ukraine and also in Crimea, which he annexed seven years earlier.
He has not (so far) made a new territorial grab in Ukraine’s mining and industrial Donbass region, notable for its large coal reserves.
But for a while, the West – and Kiev – were worryingly unsure as to his intentions.
Now Putin has a new game. Some would call it weaponising gas supplies and threatening a literal Cold War this winter as he rations energy through his snaking pipelines, potentially leaving homes in Britain and the rest of Europe shivering.
Gas prices are spiralling and Western politicians are already feeling the wrong kind of heat as smaller suppliers crash.
To many in the West, this looks like nothing short of Russian hybrid warfare akin to his brutal ally in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who has been actively flooding Europe with illegal immigrants from Iraq and elsewhere in revenge for sanctions.
But the gas conflict had a curious origin in deepest Siberia in early August.
A mysterious fire at a processing plant near the city of Novy Urengoy led to the immediate halving to one million cubic metres a day of gas exports to the West via Belarus and Poland and a hefty rise in market prices.
Several media reports in Russia noted at the time how the unexplained blaze was “good for Gazprom”, suiting its objectives.
It would allow the energy behemoth to “inflate fuel prices in Europe even more”. How convenient.
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