On November 20 the power lines carrying electricity from Ukraine into the annexed Crimea were damaged. Two pylons were downed and two others were damaged. Reportedly caused by anti-tank missiles, the incident left the power lines partially functioning, and Crimea still received electricity.
Shortly before midnight of November 21, one more pylon was toppled, leading to the grounding of a transmission cable and a complete disruption of the flow of power to Crimea.
As a result, Crimea lost power for about 6 1/2 hours. Generators were later used to restore power to some cities, and the Russian Ministry of Energy created a schedule for powering certain areas of Crimea a few hours a day. Russian authorities announced a state of emergency in Crimea, as the peninsula with 2 million inhabitants continues to suffer in cold and darkness.
Alexander Novak, Russia’s energy minister, accused the Ukrainian authorities of deliberately refusing to help rebuild the power lines, claiming that they were blown up by unknown saboteurs.
Ukrainian authorities said that pro-Ukrainian activists, including nationalist battalions and ethnic Tatars, were preventing repairs. The Ukrainian government dismissed suggestions that Ukraine might be tacitly backing the activists as being “absolutely groundless.”
The Tatars, a Muslim people with a long history in Crimea, not only opposed Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in March 2014, but also imposed an informal economic blockade on the supply of goods to Crimea in September. They have not, however, claimed responsibility for the blasts. The media and authorities do not seem overly concerned with finding the villain.
What will happen?
Russia was already planning to lay cables across the Kerch Strait to link Crimea with the Russian mainland and limit the peninsula’s reliance on Ukraine. Following the power cut, this plan was accelerated, and announcement was made promising the opening of a bridge on the 20th of December. But until a viable connection to Russia is created, Crimea continues to be highly dependent on Ukrainian electricity, water and trade.
“In short, the problem with electricity in Crimea will be solved. And it will be solved in a way so that this will not happen any more. Soon we will drastically solve everything.”
Who is to blame?
The United States
The pro-Ukrainian activists responsible for blocking repair work were repeatedly identified as being mostly comprised of the minority Muslim community of Crimean Tatars. The energy blockade even became representative of the group’s continued testing of Russian power.
“‘If it wasn’t for the Americans none of it could have happened. The Tatars, who are supported by the United States, would not do a thing,’ said Tatyana Bragina, 57, an energetic woman who also once worked construction at a nearby, unfinished nuclear plant.”
American media portrayed the energy crisis as part of a larger dimming of hopes in Crimea following Russia’s annexation.
The positions of Ukraine and Russia were presented as being relatively passive: the Ukrainian government suggested that the lines should be fixed but did not attempt to remove the protesters, while the Kremlin voiced concern but did not try to force a solution.
“De-energizing Crimea is an act of terrorism. Ukrainian authorities either cannot control anything or actually provoked the situation.”
The Russian media not only blamed Ukraine for the incident, but also for not being able to solve it.
“Problems with electricity in Crimea would not occur without the acquiescence of Kiev, which mocks the people.”
The Russian media brought attention to freezing zoo animals and devastated people, but also emphasized that the power outage has not influenced combat capabilities of the Black sea fleet.
Lithuanian media did not aim to specify who was to blame for such an enormous electricity interruption. The language was mostly neutral, and the media sources mainly covered the responses from both sides. It could have been expected that Lithuanian media would be more supportive of the Ukrainian side, but such a tendency was not identified.
In one of its articles, Lietuvos Rytas also speaks of the local people in Crimea being frustrated with both Kyiv and Moscow, because the first tortures its lost territory, while the second cannot keep its promises to ensure a stable life.
Lietuvos Rytas suggests that with this incident Ukraine does not attempt to somehow wound Russia but wants to remind the world about the conflict.
“Unknown people have destroyed the electricity lines to Crimea, and Tatars block the reconstruction. The Muslim people feel betrayed and fear that the West will sacrifice the peninsula for a compromise with Russia.”
The German media, much like American and Russian media, identified the problem with Crimean Tatars blocking the reconstruction. The harshest description is made by Süddeutsche. They call the people extremists – and the cutting of the pylons sabotage.
“This escalation, which has obviously been willingly caused by Kyiv, worries us a lot. It could negatively impact the implementation of the Minsk agreement – and the only way that could lead to a political solution of the Ukraine conflict.”
Although Estonian media vocally blamed the continuing blackout on Crimean Tatars, it also mentioned threats from nationalist politicians stating that Ukraine should not even try to fight the Tatars to reconstruct the pylons.
“We are here and will stay here. We cannot be bought off with anything. Everyone has to know that we will not leave.” – the leader of the blockade.
However, the Estonian media seemed to be more concerned with a viable solution and possible consequences than with looking for a villain. The soon-to-be-ready Russian electricity line was seen as the most probable solution. Until then scheduled power cuts would continue to make the life of Crimeans difficult. The shortage of candles and the approaching winter cold were mentioned as fast-growing problems. Schools, shopping centers and factories were also closed down. Households did not become too cold yet, but several warm-climate zoo animals died in Jalta.