Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 3

The energy crisis in the Primorsky Krai region of Russia’s Far East is showing no signs of letting up in the New Year. Aleksandr Ius, chief engineer for Dalenergo, the regional energy provider, painted an alarming picture of the situation yesterday, telling NTV television: “Industry has come to a halt everywhere. The ports have come to a halt. The railroads have come to a halt. Electric power is being supplied only to mines extracting coal, only to those enterprises which are ensuring the work of the electric power stations, in order to prevent their … complete stoppage.” The region is reportedly experiencing an electric power deficit of more than 400 megawatts–meaning that it is producing three times less electric energy than required–and the shortage has been exacerbated by breakdowns of steam shovels in local coalmines. At the same time, the region is experiencing some of its coldest weather in the last decade, with temperatures dipping 43 degree below zero Celsius in some areas. According to Vladimir Bashkirov, head of Primorsky Krai’s main department for civil defense and emergency situations, 228 apartment buildings, housing more than 13,000 people, remain without heat. In Vladivostok, the regional capital, residents are getting only three hours of electricity a day, meaning they are spending most of their time in the dark and are severely restricted in their use of appliances, such as space heaters (NTV, January 3-4; Russian agencies, January 4).

At the end of last November, the federal Emergency Situations Ministry reported that 50,000 people in Primorsky Krai were living without heat. Konstantin Pulikovsky, President Vladimir Putin’s authorized representative to the Far Eastern federal district, announced that Putin would send a commission from the presidential administration Main Control Department to Primorsky Krai to assess the regional government’s ability to manage the crisis (see the Monitor, December 1). Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s emergency situations minister, subsequently visited the region personally. As the year ended, the situation began to improve, with only 4,500 people in the region going without heat in their apartments. Since then, that number has seen a three-fold jump (Russian agencies, January 4).

Bashkirov, Primorsky Krai’s emergency situations chief, put the blame for the latest round of the heating crisis on the record cold temperatures and on the mayors of those areas which are going without heat, whom he accused of being unprepared for the winter (Russian agencies, January 4). Meanwhile, the region’s administration has reportedly put up part of its property, including all of its automobiles–among them, Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko’s official car–as collateral for a bank credit to purchase fuel. Yet despite the Primorsky administration’s attempt to show that it is taking heroic efforts to end the crisis–and its apparent attempt to deflect the blame for it on to local mayors–the ongoing energy crisis could prove to be Nazdratenko’s undoing. Yesterday fifteen deputies in the Primorsky Krai Duma sent a telegram to Putin asking him to remove the governor from office and to introduce elements of direct presidential rule over the region. Putin was quoted as promising “an appropriate reaction from the state.” One of the Primorsky deputies, Vladimir Gildenberg, predicted: “By January 16, the issue of Nazdratenko will be decided. The president will sign a decree on his removal” (Russian agencies, January 4). Meanwhile Sergei Stepashin–head of the Audit Chamber, the federal watchdog agency charged with monitoring the use of federal funds–said yesterday that his agency will carry out a “comprehensive” check of the situation in Primorsky Krai (NTV, January 3). This could not have been good news for Nazdratenko and his associates. According to a purported confidential government analytical document leaked to the press late last year, Nazdratenko is at the top of the Kremlin’s hit list, and the federal authorities are planning an investigation into financial machinations involving a charitable fund which the governor and his wife set up (see the Monitor, December 1, 2000). Nazdratenko and other Primorsky Krai officials have consistently blamed the federal authorities for the energy crisis in the region, and some observers believe that the federal authorities have created energy shortages or exacerbated existing ones in order to undermine various entrenched regional leaders.