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Natural gas pipeline.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/

What We're Watching: Russia cuts off gas, EU cuts off Hungary, Erdogan wants to cut Saudi deal

Is Russia’s gas strategy backfiring?

European natural gas prices soared on Wednesday after Russia turned off the gas taps to Bulgaria and Poland. Both countries, which are members of the EU and NATO, had refused to meet Vladimir Putin's recent demand that any countries deemed "unfriendly" to Moscow must pay for Russian gas in rubles. So far, Hungary is the only EU member state willing to do that, but it accounts for just a tiny portion of overall Russian gas sales to Europe. The bigger problem is whether private companies will defy their governments by agreeing to pay in rubles — and at least four have reportedly agreed to do so. For now, larger European countries like Germany have promised they'll share their gas supplies with Bulgaria and Poland so long as the Russian pipes remain closed. If that solidarity holds, and if the EU continues with plans to dramatically reduce its reliance on Russian gas, Moscow's gas leverage over the Europeans might not be as strong as Putin thought. That said, he may be betting that European consumers — read: voters — won't be willing to put up with higher prices indefinitely, particularly once winter rolls around again. Natural gas stories tend to play out over long periods of time — this one will be no exception.

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What We're Watching: Turkey's Afghanistan play, Indonesia as COVID epicenter, EU's rule of law report

Turkey's Afghanistan play: With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly complete, many countries (and non-state actors) are vying for influence there. The latest player to enter the stage is Turkey, with president Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposing that Turkish troops defend and operate Kabul's international airport when the US is gone. Erdogan said that to make the plan work, the US would need to hand over logistical facilities to Ankara, and has called on Washington to back Turkey in ongoing diplomacy in Afghanistan, which it says is crucial to securing Kabul's airport, the main way into the country for the international community. The Americans, for their part, appear to be open to the idea. That's because it would mean handing over the headache of securing Afghanistan's only international airport to a fellow NATO member, reducing the likelihood of Afghanistan becoming completely shut off from the rest of the world in the (likely) event of a Taliban takeover. From Turkey's perspective, taking a more active role in stabilizing Afghanistan might earn it some goodwill from Washington and Brussels at a time when relations with both are at historic low points. The Taliban, meanwhile, said Turkey's pitch was "reprehensible."

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