Crimea declared a state of emergency after pylons carrying electricity into the peninsula were blown up over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Russia’s Energy Ministry said almost two million people had been left without power. The local energy ministry said that between 20% and 30% of the peninsula was supplied with electricity, almost half of that by generators.
Russian media outlets reported that pylons in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson had been blown up by pro-Ukrainian activists. The Russian ministry didn’t mention the cause of the outage. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry confirmed that the pylons had been blown up and pledged to help facilitate repair work.
It isn’t clear who blew up the pylons, but Kyiv officials certainly don’t seem to be rushing to restore power. In addition, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko has imposed an economic blockade on the peninsula, following a statement accusing Russia of persecuting its ethnic Tatars and pro-Ukrainian inhabitants. A blockade could be painful, as Crimea can only receive goods directly from Russia across a narrow strait to its east. A bridge spanning the strait is slated to be completed by 2019, but until then the bottleneck makes Crimea’s economic stability rather tenuous.
In the short term, however, the threat of a goods embargo pales in comparison to the possibility that power could remain out for several weeks. Over at Bloomberg View, Leonid Bershidsky gives some background:
Russia and Ukraine have been exchanging economic blows every few weeks. Air travel between the two countries has been cut off since last month; Ukraine demanded a hefty fine from Russian carriers for flying to Crimea, but they refused to pay and were banned from Ukrainian airports. In response, Moscow banned Ukrainian airlines from flying to Russia. For next year, Russia is imposing a food-import embargo on Ukraine, like the one already in effect against most Western countries.
The Crimea energy situation, however, is more dangerous than any of that tit-for-tat. Russians who backed the annexation, Purtin’s core electorate, expect the president to deal with such threats. All he can do, short of sending troops into mainland Ukraine, is to lean on the Kiev government. But even if it is capable of fully controlling its territory, it is playing a complicated game with the protesters, whose leaders are part of the political establishment.
As Bershidky observes, provoking Putin is risky business, even if Poroshenko desperately needs the West to pay him attention. It’s a smart piece, and worth reading in full.