The Russian government, which several years ago decreed that power companies could not cut off power to military installations not paying their bills, seems poised to modify this policy. On Friday, Economics Minister Yakov Urinson said that the government would place limits on the amount of energy the Defense Ministry could receive this year. The restrictions would also apply to the Health Ministry and other unnamed ministries consuming more power than they purchase.
The problem first came to a head in 1994 when electrical companies began to routinely shut off power to their dead-beat military customers. The most dramatic incident occurred in October of that year when the plug was pulled at the Strategic Rocket Forces command center. Subsequently, the government supposedly banned such arbitrary actions.
Urinson explained that since then the military had gotten used to paying just a fraction of its power bills. Last year, he said, the Defense Ministry asked for 2 trillion rubles for energy purchases, spent 1. 5 trillion for that purpose but consumed energy worth 10 trillion. Some have suggested that part of this energy is siphoned off to commercial enterprises — probably for a fee.
The ban on power interruptions has not been universally observed. Last Wednesday, a power company in Chita disconnected the electricity to a helicopter base for three hours. Sometimes it is not just financial problems that threaten military energy supplies. The thermal power station that heats the shipyard in Severodvinsk — where Russian nuclear submarines are built and repaired — has only enough fuel for two more days operations. The machinery connected to the submarines’ nuclear reactors must be kept warmer than five degrees Celsius for the plants to operate safely. The local civil defense authorities warn that an emergency situation could develop without reliable heating. (Russian media, February 10-14)
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