This strikes me as a curious way to end a column about how Russia’s ability to threaten cutting western Europe off from its gas supplies is making it extremely powerful:
German officials don’t really think Russia is about to turn off the gas if it doesn’t get its way on some issue. After all, it never did that during the old cold war, and Russia today is much more dependent on Western markets. But still, centuries of uneasy relations between Europe and Russia make German officials queasy about how dependent they’ve grown on the Kremlin to heat their homes and offices. Queasy or not, one thing they know for sure: Russia is back. The gas man cometh.
That Russia never did this during the Cold War seems like a good reason to think they won’t do it in the future. And if Germans don’t “really” think Russia will turn off the gas, then what’s the significance of the gas man comething? Russia seems to be “back” primarily in the sense of not being as economically devastated as it was when I visited in the late Yeltsin years. And that I’d have to judge as a good thing; the human suffering involved in Russia’s botched post-Communist transition was enormous.