Ukraine Starts Crimea Power Repairs as Russia Weighs Retaliation

  • Ukrenergo may fix first cable to Crimea Nov. 26 at earliest
  • Russia says it may halt coal, natural gas supplies to Ukraine

Ukraine started repairing one of four sabotaged power cables to Crimea as Russia threatened to retaliate for the delay in restoring electricity supplies to the peninsula.

The damaged line to Russia-annexed Crimea could be fixed Thursday at the earliest, Ukraine’s energy company Ukrenergo said, without specifying when work on the remaining cables will start. Moscow may seek reprisals as Ukraine delays restoring all power supplies, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday.

“We can and maybe, in this situation, we need to take a decision on halting coal deliveries” to Ukraine amid the Crimea blackout, Novak said in comments broadcast by Vesti FM radio station. "There are different options” to retaliate, he said.

The dispute lays bare the conflict between the former Soviet states amid a separatist war that’s hammered Ukraine’s economy and killed more than 8,000 people. Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to overcome frayed ties with the U.S. and European countries, which imposed sanctions against Russia, to form an alliance to fight Islamic State.

Economic Blockade

Ethnic Tatars from Crimea and some Ukrainian radical groups blocked Ukrenergo’s repair teams as well as cargo trucks to Crimea, demanding an economic blockade of the peninsula until Russia releases political prisoners.

The first cable’s restart depends on final talks with the protesters, who agreed to allow the repairs, the energy company said on its website Tuesday. It may take as long as 72 hours to fix all the cables, according to estimates from Ukrainian Energy Minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn.

Russia’s Novak said it seemed “strange” that Ukraine’s authorities can’t manage some “extremists” preventing the restoration of power. While a halt in coal supplies to Ukraine won’t provide an immediate effect as the neighboring state has its own reserves, it could lead to a deficit in the long term, he said.

Ukraine’s supply of prepaid Russian gas is close to an end and Moscow-based Gazprom PJSC may halt fuel deliveries “today or tomorrow” unless it receives more money, Novak said. Ukraine said Monday its gas reserves are sufficient and it won’t need more Russian supplies at least until the year-end.

Ukraine may need more Russian coal as it faces some shortages after separatists seized Ukraine’s coal producing districts. Coal imported by sea can cover only two thirds of consumption due to limited port capacities, Energy Minister Demchyshyn said Monday.

Crimea, which relies on Ukrainian electricity, is covering about 30 percent of its demand from its own resources. The region should prepare “for the worst” as power supplies may not return to normal until Russia starts delivering electricity from its southern Krasnodar region on Dec. 22, Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksenov said on Monday.

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