In this regard, the UK is a mirror image of Germany and Italy, which have significant storage but are heavily dependent on pipeline supply from Russia.
You’d be hard-pressed to credit him with the price of things, but Britain is awash with gas for now, with surplus being shipped to Europe to help replenish depleted storage facilities. This cannot be a permanent situation, obviously. Domestic demand will soar over the winter, eroding the current surplus.
But for now, the flows are from Great Britain to Europe. The upshot is that the continent can, perhaps – when combined with rationing and other demand suppression measures – be able to weather the coming winter without full disaster or giving in to Putin.
Storage facilities in Germany and elsewhere are rapidly approaching full capacity, despite the closure of the Nord Stream pipeline facility this week. Russia would apparently prefer to burn the gas rather than supply it. However, thanks in part to British supplies via its LNG terminals, Europe is beginning to show that it can indeed do without Putin.
Once deprived of the European market, there is nothing on the immediate horizon for Russia to replace it. The infrastructure needed to switch to Asian markets is still in the planning stage; even if China is willing to commit to such a patently unreliable supplier, more than willing to use its stranglehold for political gain, the completion of the pipelines and LNG terminals needed to replace Europe with the China is still years away.
The Russian leader thought he could break Europe. It is already obvious that he failed. None of this will lessen the challenges Europe faces in coping with the current energy crisis.
For much of the continent they are far worse than Britain’s – a big gaping hole in supply alongside crushing prices. Putin may be losing his grip on Europe’s energy supply, but he can do a lot of damage in the meantime.
One of the manifestations of this damage is the weakness of the euro and the pound sterling. It’s partly just a story of dollar strength. But probably no more than half of the depreciation of the two currencies can be attributed to divergent monetary policies. And in any case, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank seem determined to catch up with the US Federal Reserve when it comes to monetary tightening.
The other half of the depreciation is due to broader fears about the health of the European economy. Worries over the recessionary consequences of the cost-of-living squeeze combined with factory closures in Germany and worries about fiscal sustainability in Britain and Italy in a toxic cocktail of negative sentiment.
Renewed political instability in Italy and growing questions about the affordability of Liz Truss’ unfunded tax cut promises here in Britain do little to help. The markets aren’t buying the Team Truss narrative – that tax cuts will automatically lead to higher growth.
Like the Foreign Secretary’s rival, Rishi Sunak, they fear they will only fuel inflation further, forcing the Bank of England into ever bigger interest rate hikes than currently planned.
Yet at least Britain retains its own currency and therefore logically cannot go bankrupt completely; instead, the pound will simply depreciate until some semblance of fiscal and current account discipline is restored. Italy and other members of the euro zone in budgetary difficulties do not benefit from such a safety net. The tension is already showing in the widening of spreads in sovereign bond markets.