Back in October I signalled that if we had another 'beast from the east' in the traditionally tight Jan-March period, we might be in for a cold time of it. That was because Russian gas had already been at max through the Yamal (Belarus route) and Nord Stream1 (Baltic route) pipelines at the start of the autumn; LNG imports to Europe were already running at high levels; the Dutch and the Norwegians were winding back their production; and the weather was by then still mild.
Well. Three things happened to turn this situation on its head. Firstly, LNG supplies increased still further, as global production rose to a far greater extent than demand from the Far East could accommodate; the weather was, errr, Quite Mild in Feb, to say the least; and, most surprisingly of all the mighty Gazprom has been shovelling gas through the Ukrainian route, famously shunned by Russia for several years now, towards Europe as fast as it is able. Wholesale prices have correspondingly halved!
Why? Because Gazprom, long the milch cow for Putin's regime and indeed his predecessors', is deep in the shit. Amazingly (for an organisation that once could do no wrong) it has completely lost its monopolistic stranglehold on Russian gas production to newcomers with evident clout where it matters, and at the same time has been materially knocked back in the export markets by US shale production. Compounding these woes, it has had to follow Putin's instructions and freeze out Ukraine (its cheapest export route); and divert vast resources towards (a) building Nord Stream 2, and (b) delivering on its new obligations towards the Chinese, who beat a very tough, big deal out of them a while back and are drumming their fingers impatiently. So "dividends" to Putin et al have not been living up to expectations of late.
In traditional Russian fashion, there has accordingly been, yes, a Purge. Three men at the very top have been given the old Olga boatman's yo-heave-ho without explanation - "sent to pension", in the glorious Russian euphemism - and are no doubt grateful that things have at least moved on a bit from Comrade Stalin's day. And they've opened the valves across every west-bound pipeline system to get as much revenue out of the European market as possible, chasing prices downwards all the while, of course (capitalism works like that ...)
Hilariously, their export-route contracts with Ukraine terminate a few months from now. Even more hilariously, the EU intends to mediate the negotiations! Ukraine by no means holds all the cards though, because lots of big western companies, not to mention Germany itself, have an interest in seeing the ultra-contentious Nord Stream2 completed, which will very effectively outflank the Ukrainian route in a couple of years' time - obstruction by Denmark notwithstanding.
I'll keep ya updated ...