Power out­ages plague Crimea as Rus­sia threat­ens to cut Ukraine gas

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

SIM­FER­OPOL: Power cuts in Crimea af­fected nearly 940,000 peo­ple yes­ter­day as ten­sions raged be­tween Kiev and Moscow over the an­nexed penin­sula and Rus­sia threat­ened to cut off gas sup­plies to Ukraine.

The Black Sea penin­sula has been hit by power cuts af­ter un­known at­tack­ers blew up py­lons at the week­end, cut­ting power lines from Ukraine, which sup­plies most of its elec­tric­ity.

The en­ergy min­istry in Moscow said that some 938,000 res­i­dents of Crimea re­mained with­out elec­tric­ity and Rus­sia was send­ing 300 mo­bile gen­er­a­tors to the penin­sula. En­ergy min­is­ter Alexan­der No­vak said Rus­sia may shortly cut nat­u­ral gas sup­plies to Ukraine be­cause Kiev had not made an up­front pay­ment and sug­gested Moscow could also cut coal de­liv­er­ies.

“Sup­plies of gas will be halted to­day or tomorrow in the ab­sence of a pre­pay­ment,” No­vak said on ra­dio Vesti FM. Rus­sia sup­plies around a third of Europe’s gas, with roughly half of it flow­ing via Ukraine and has been in­volved in a fes­ter­ing pric­ing dis­pute with Kiev. No­vak and Rus­sian Emer­gen­cies Min­is­ter Vladimir Puchkov were ex­pected to visit Crimea later yes­ter­day.

Ukraine on Mon­day halted the move­ment of goods to Crimea, ratch­et­ing up ten­sions with Moscow amid a rel­a­tive lull in fight­ing in sep­a­ratist east­ern Ukraine that has claimed more than 8,000 lives since April 2014. Ten­sions have spiked as Kiev’s land­mark free­trade agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union is set to come into force on Jan­uary 1, 2016.

Rus­sia has ve­he­mently op­posed the agree­ment at the heart of the Ukraine con­flict, say­ing it would dam­age its eco­nomic in­ter­ests and threat­en­ing to re­spond by ban­ning food im­ports from Ukraine.

Kiev vowed on Mon­day to re­spond in kind. Ukraine’s in­te­rior min­is­ter even sug­gested that Kiev cut power sup­plies to Crimea al­to­gether.

Crimea de­clared a state of emer­gency af­ter an explosion Satur­day in Ukraine’s Kher­son re­gion bor­der­ing the penin­sula cut the two work­ing power lines head­ing to the ter­ri­tory, leav­ing some 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple with­out elec­tric­ity.

The au­thor­i­ties in Crimea, which de­pends on Kiev for most of its power sup­plies, have sug­gested Ukraine was in­volved in the blast. The Rus­sian en­ergy min­is­ter ac­cused Kiev of fail­ing to take mea­sures to re­pair the power lines. “Not only is Crimea suf­fer­ing, but the Kher­son re­gion is also suf­fer­ing, Ukraine’s en­ergy in­dus­try is suf­fer­ing,” No­vak said.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s state-run en­ergy com­pany Ukren­ergo said it would in­stall a new py­lon in the Kher­son re­gion to re­store power sup­plies.

Power cuts hit zoo

In Crimea, au­thor­i­ties en­forced elec­tric­ity ra­tioning and re­gional leader, Sergei Aksy­onov, sacked his top en­ergy of­fi­cial.

The black­out caused ma­jor dis­rup­tions, af­fect­ing wa­ter sup­plies to high-rise build­ings, ca­ble and In­ter­net and plung­ing streets into dark­ness. Staff at a zoo out­side Sim­fer­opol, the penin­sula’s main city, were strug­gling to keep an­i­mals in­clud­ing lion and tiger cubs warm.

“The sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult,” Oleg Zubkov, head of the Taigan wildlife park, told AFP. “We are try­ing to use gen­er­a­tors but they can­not cover our needs,” he said, adding that marine an­i­mals like sea tur­tles were es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble. “I am afraid we won’t be able to avoid ma­jor losses.”

Crimea head Aksy­onov has urged the res­i­dents to “pre­pare for the worst,” say­ing the power black­out could well last un­til late De­cem­ber. Rus­sia is lay­ing un­der­sea ca­bles to Crimea to ease de­pen­dence on Kiev and is also plan­ning to build gas-pow­ered power sta­tions which would burn gas piped from the main­land. Eco­nomic ties be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine col­lapsed af­ter a pop­u­lar up­ris­ing in Kiev ousted Krem­lin-backed leader Vik­tor Yanukovych last year, with Rus­sia then an­nex­ing Crimea and sup­port­ing Rus­sian-speak­ing in­sur­gents in the east.

On De­cem­ber 1, the Euro­pean Union, Rus­sia and Ukraine will hold a three-way meet­ing as Brussels and Kiev seek to al­lay Moscow’s fears over the ef­fects of the trade deal.

Brussels said it was ready to con­tinue to seek ways to “achieve prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to Rus­sia’s con­cerns.” — AFP

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