Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ukraine cuts electricity power supply to Crimea

Ukraine briefly severed electricity to the Crimean peninsula, nine months after it was annexed by Russia, in a pointed reminder of the territory’s reliance on Ukrainian energy sources, New York Times reports.

The electricity shut-off came as Moscow threatened a greater rift with the West if Ukraine attempted to make good on its intention to join NATO.

The Russian deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov condemned the decision on Tuesday by the Ukrainian Parliament to abandon Ukraine’s nonaligned status and declared that NATO was attempting to use Ukraine as a “forward line for confronting Russia.”

Ukraine’s ambitions to join the Western military alliance have been presented as a direct military threat to Russia by President Vladimir Putin and top security officials.

“Under the slogan of a Russian threat, NATO is expanding its military potential in the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania,” Antonov said in remarks carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Ukrainian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to abandon the country’s nonaligned status, which was adopted in 2010 under President Vladimir Yanukovych, as a step toward NATO accession.

“If this decision in the future takes on a military character, then we will respond appropriately,” Antonov said. “Then there will be a complete severing of ties with NATO, which will be practically impossible to repair.”

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in an interview with a Norwegian media outlet broadcast on Wednesday that Ukraine membership would be hampered by territorial disputes — a reference to the Crimean peninsula and the simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s southeast.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March has provoked disputes ranging from military security to the provision of basic utilities, including energy, for which Crimea is highly dependent on the mainland.

As if to accentuate that dependence, stoplights in Crimea suddenly darkened on Wednesday morning, local media reported, and telephone coverage was lost across the entire peninsula. Russian military units stationed on the peninsula, which have been reinforced since the annexation, were forced to switch to alternative power sources but suffered no loss to military readiness, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Vladimir Demchishin, the Ukrainian minister of coal and energy, confirmed during a meeting of the government that energy deliveries to Crimea had been halted intentionally, saying that the peninsula had exceeded consumption limits.

“The Crimean peninsula for a considerable period of time this morning was cut off,” Demchishin, the minister said, adding that power supplies had since been resumed to the peninsula, which has a population of more than two million. “We hope that consumers in Crimea will adhere to the limits which were agreed upon.”

Ukraine is confronting an energy crisis as supplies of coal from the belligerent Donetsk and Luhansk regions have been disrupted by the conflict there, and rolling blackouts in other Ukrainian regions and in Crimea have occurred on several occasions.

Putin, in a speech this month, declared Crimea “sacral” and has given priority to projects to maintain and improve quality of life on the peninsula. But Russia has no direct land access to Crimea, and plans for a bridge to be built from Russia across the Kerch Strait, where ferry traffic is regularly disrupted by bad weather, will be completed at the earliest in 2018.

The blackout occurred just hours before negotiators were set to meet in Minsk, Belarus, to continue talks on a settlement to the conflict in southeast Ukraine, where a shaky cease-fire has held since early September despite almost daily reports of shelling from the region.

The meeting of the “contact group,” the first since September, comes as the search for a political solution to the conflict and attempts to delineate a cease-fire line have stalled.

In Moscow, the government put into effect further measures to control the economic damage resulting from Western economic sanctions and falling oil prices, which sent the ruble plummeting last week.

The Central Bank of Russia on Wednesday announced that it would make foreign currency loans available to the country’s largest lenders like Sberbank and VTB to help them “manage their own currency liquidity” and refinance foreign loans.

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