AS the Russian bear consumes the Crimea, the EU threatens an increasing number of sanctions.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is left looking on nervously, as are other former Soviet states.

But, apart from imposing travel bans, freezing assets and talking of removing Russia from the G8, the EU has a major problem and it’s one of economics.

Gas and oil giants Gazprom and Rosneft keep the lights on in much of Europe.

Only now, and clearly too late, are EU leaders realising how over reliant they’ve become on Russian energy.

Germany’s recent decision to shut down all their nuclear reactors, for example, will leave them particularly vulnerable. The obvious response is to find an alternative source of energy as soon as possible.

However, only the USA, now virtually energy independent due to vast reserves of shale gas, has the capability to fulfil this role.

She’s due to start exporting gas by the end of 2015 which, in turn, will inevitably damage the Russian economy. Energy, or access to it, has always been a weapon in global politics and once again it’s taking centre stage. Russia may well be returning to her more belligerent ways, but she’s not the force she once was.

Economically, she needs the West a lot more than we need her, and sanctions will bite, if pursued coherently and with unity.

Perhaps I could also suggest repatriating the many Russians who have made themselves extremely comfortable in the West if this blatant breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty continues.

I’m told by a colleague with experience in Russian affairs that they’re terrified at the prospect, for, under Putin, you can be an oligarch one minute and in jail the next.

Perhaps, then, a touch of Cold War reality for the increasing number of affluent Russians might have a sobering effect on their country’s politics.