Power outages plague Crimea as Russia threatens to cut Ukraine gas

Power outages plague Crimea as Russia threatens to cut Ukraine gas
People play cards in Simferopol on November 22, 2015. Crimea declared a state of emergency on November 22, 2015 after its main electricity lines from Ukraine were blown up, leaving the Russian-annexed peninsula in darkness after the second such attack in as many days.

SIMFEROPO - Power cuts in Crimea affected nearly 940,000 people on Tuesday as tensions raged between Kiev and Moscow over the annexed peninsula and Russia threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine.

The Black Sea peninsula has been hit by power cuts since an explosion at the weekend cut power lines from Ukraine, which supplies most of its electricity.

Moscow's energy ministry said that some 938,000 residents of Crimea remained without electricity and Russia was sending 300 mobile generators to the peninsula.

Meanwhile Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said Russia may shortly cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine because Kiev did not provide a prepayment and suggested Moscow could also cut coal deliveries.

"Supplies of gas will be halted today or tomorrow in the absence of a prepayment," Novak said on radio Vesti FM.

Russia supplies around a third of Europe's gas, with roughly half of it flowing via Ukraine.

Novak and Russian Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov were expected to visit Crimea later Tuesday.

Ukraine on Monday halted the movement of goods to Crimea, ratcheting up tensions with Moscow amid a relative lull in fighting in separatist eastern Ukraine.

Tensions spiked as Kiev's landmark free trade agreement with the European Union is set to come into force on January 1, 2016.

Russia has vehemently opposed the agreement, saying it would damage its economic interests and has said it will respond by banning food imports from Ukraine. Kiev said on Monday that it would respond in kind.

Ukraine's interior minister even suggested Monday that Kiev cut power supplies to Crimea altogether.

Crimea on Sunday declared a state of emergency after an explosion Saturday in Ukraine's Kherson region bordering the peninsula cut the two working power lines heading to the territory, leaving some 1.6 million people without electricity.

The authorities in Crimea, which depends on Kiev for most of its power supplies, have suggested Ukraine was involved in the blast.

The energy minister accused Kiev of failing to take measures to repair the power lines.

"Not only is Crimea suffering, but the Kherson region is also suffering, Ukraine's energy industry is suffering," Novak said.

Economic ties between Russia and Ukraine collapsed after a popular uprising in Kiev ousted Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych last year, leading Russia to annex Crimea and support Russian-speaking insurgents in the east.

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