The approach of winter “reminds every-one [Russian president] Vladimir Putin still holds the cards when it comes to supplying gas”, writes economic journalist Liam Halligan in The Spectator. What will become of the tensions between Russia and the European Union as the cold season approaches?

EUobserver reports that a European Commission “stress test” published on 16 October shows “Bulgaria and Finland would end up with gas supply shortfalls of 100 percent, while Estonia would miss 73 percent” if Moscow were to stop the flow, and that Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Greece, Slovakia, Latvia and Croatia would also be affected. However, the EU insists this situation is less worrying than it appears, since the continent could resort to —

tapping storage vats (currently 90 per cent full in most of Europe); using interconnectors to move gas round the EU; buying more liquid gas on world markets; boosting imports from Norway; and switching to other fuels, such as biomass.

But the winter could have a whole other impact on the country at the heart of the belligerence. If Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, as EUobserver notes, is “optimistic” Russia and Ukraine would be able to reach a deal on winter gas prices, Halligan notes the latter is facing “financial meltdown” —

In June, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development forecast Ukrainian GDP would shrink 7 per cent this year. Last month that forecast was downgraded to a whopping 9 per cent drop, with the EBRD warning of “formidable difficulties” if energy supplies from Russia weren’t fully restored before winter. Gazprom generally supplies over half of Ukraine’s still heavily subsidised gas.

With the eurozone in trouble once again – not least, Halligan notes, because the sanctions over the political crisis in Ukraine have pushed the German economy to “the brink of recession” – Western powers do not want to risk a default. Halligan thus predicts an easing of the sanctions as the protagonists come up with a rescue plan: as “there’s barely the money and certainly not the political will to help Ukraine” in Europe and the United States, a solution for Ukraine requires —

both Chinese and (whisper it) Russian money. That’s not going to happen until the West drops its sanctions or gives a very clear commitment to do so, allowing Moscow to do the same. For the reality is that the West – or at least Europe – wants sanctions to end much more badly than Moscow.