As winter approaches, the situation in Ukraine is getting grim. The Financial Times:
Imports of Russian natural gas have been cut off since June amid a price and debt dispute that has run alongside their military confrontation in eastern Ukraine. That has already prompted cold showers as the government has resorted to rationing domestically produced gas by cutting centrally provided hot water to flats.The conflict is also now endangering Ukraine’s coal supplies. Mining activity in eastern Ukraine has been interrupted by the fighting while damage to railways has created transport bottlenecks. A Ukrainian army spokesperson this week accused Russian-backed militants of trying to seize railway hubs to control the flow of coal out of the region.
Putin has consistently outmaneuvered his opponents in the West in this crisis, and his leverage over Ukraine is orders of magnitude greater now than it was during the previous two times (2006 and 2009) that Russia cut Ukraine’s gas. This time around, Ukraine quite literally lacks the ability to keep the lights and heat on.
In a better world, plans would be far advanced in the West to help the Ukrainian people manage a completely obvious and predictable challenge that is only a couple of months away. In the world that we actually inhabit, however, that is not the case. Putin’s leverage over Ukraine is steadily tightening, and European countries along Ukraine’s periphery—even Poland—are speaking more and more openly of accommodating Moscow’s demands.
Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. And there is at least the ghost of a strategy still available to the West: make Putin pay an ongoing price so that it will be clear that he has overstepped. That strategy doesn’t require Ukraine to be transformed into a well-functioning paradise; as we’ve noted over and over in these pages, that is the worst kind of wishful thinking and is just not likely to happen any time soon. But it would involve getting Ukraine through a couple of winters while Putin twists in the wind as the sanctions slowly do their thing.