The blackout in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea began with sabotage by unidentified bombers, but now Ukrainian political partisans and even the government in Kiev are facing down Russia in its efforts to turn the lights back on.
There’s no word on who was responsible for Sunday’s explosions that brought down power pylons that serve Crimea from the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, but evidently their work isn’t done. Ukrainian Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn said unexploded devices remained at some sabotage sites, preventing repair work.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian partisans, most of them Muslim Crimean Tatars, have begun blocking access to the damaged pylons, saying Kiev must take a stronger stand against Russia for unilaterally annexing the peninsula in March 2014, a move that led to stiff Western economic sanctions against Moscow.
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Ukraine’s electrical grid operator, Ukrenergo, sought in vain to reach an understanding with the Tatars during talks in the Ukrainian village of Chonhar, near the border with Crimea and close to one of the toppled pylons. The Tatars have been harboring a grudge against Moscow ever since they faced persecution by the Soviet Union during the 20th century.
The activists, Tatars themselves, said they had no idea how the pylons had been knocked down. Some of them suggested that they had become weak with age and weather and had been flattened by gusts of wind. Ukrenergo dismissed that explanation out of hand, saying it had evidence that the damage had been caused by “shelling or the use of explosive devices.”
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One prominent Tatar, Mustafa Djemilev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said the partisans would allow access only for crews sent to repair pylons that serve only Ukrainian territory, not Russian-held Crimea.
In a statement, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko directed his prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to explore whether his government should halt all freight transport into and out of Crimea, an indication that he may support the border protests. Yatsenyuk responded by imposing such a ban on Monday.
Poroshenko expressed anger Monday over Moscow’s treatment of Tatars. “We aren’t satisfied with today’s status quo, when an occupying power neglects the basic rights of the Crimean Tatar people,” he said. “Crimea is Ukrainian territory. We will defend the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and all Ukrainians who are living on occupied territory.”
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The reaction from the Russian side was mixed. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said only that he knew of no repair timetable, but hoped Ukraine would take “rapid measures” to erect new pylons. But Sergei Aksyonov, Russia’s hand-picked prime minister for Crimea, denounced the blackout as a “terrorist act” adding that “Nobody will be allowed to blackmail us in order to solve any issues.”
The blackout has had a sharp impact on most of Crimea’s economy and its 2 million residents, many of whom have been left without running water as well as electricity. A state of emergency was declared, and most workers in the region were allowed to stay home on Monday. About the only services available were public transit and hospitals, which were getting their electricity from generators.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com