Residents of Primorsky Krai in Russia’s Far East, who just a few short months ago were suffering as a result of power outages, have found themselves in the dark again. The power was out in a number of the region’s cities yesterday: Dalenergo, the regional electric utility, cut off most power supplies to four cities–Partizansk, Nakhodka, Ussuriisk and Asenev–on the basis of outstanding debt.
The cut-offs caused major disruptions and, in some cases, forced local officials to take special measures to prevent continued power cuts. Sergei Ruditsa, head of the joint administration of the city of Ussuriisk and the Ussuriisk region, posted policemen outside the local water supply to ensure that its electricity was not interrupted. Dalenergo had cut off power to the facility, which left local residents without water for ten to twenty hours. According to Ruditsa, while Ussuriisk has been paying off its current electricity bills, Dalenergo has demanded that the municipality pay off its arrears at a rate of 7 percent per month so that the debt would be paid off entirely by the end of this year. According to Ruditsa, the local government will not be able to make all of these payments and cover its operating costs. Meanwhile, Nakhodka Mayor Viktor Gnezdilov yesterday ordered the local police to guard local power stations to prevent Dalenergo officials from entering them and cutting off power. According to reports today, however, Dalenergo had cut electric power supplies to the city’s water works for unpaid bills, causing a suspension in its water supply (NTV.ru, June 5; Russian agencies, June 6). In the meantime, Dalenergo, as of June 1, raised its rates an average of 13 percent. By way of explanation it cites its own debt problems, saying that as of May 28, it owed coal suppliers more than 330 million rubles (some US$11 million) and suppliers of fuel oil 417.7 million rubles (some US$14.4 million) (Izvestia, June 6).
This past winter, an energy crisis in Primorsky Krai forced thousands of the region’s residents live without heat and light in sub-zero temperatures and ultimately led President Vladimir Putin to remove Aleksandr Gavrin as energy minister and to force the resignation of the then governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko. In the end, however, Nazdratenko was kicked upstairs: Putin made him head of the State Fisheries Committee, which oversees the country’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry. And while Putin also ordered Aleksandr Voloshin, Kremlin administration chief and chairman of the board of United Energy Systems (UES), Russia’s power grid, to take measures aimed at “strengthening the leadership” at the 51-percent state-owned UES, UES chief Anatoly Chubais escaped punishment (see the Monitor, February 5, 26).
The fact that Primorye seems to be back at square one in terms of energy shortages is embarrassing for the Kremlin, given that its removal of Nazdratenko and Gavrin was aimed mainly at preventing a repetition of last winter’s crisis and at demonstrating that it can impose discipline on wayward and mismanaged regions. It is also interesting to note that the latest power outages have occurred less than two weeks before the run-off gubernatorial elections for the krai. The Kremlin’s candidate, Gennady Apanasenko, deputy to Far East presidential representative Konstantin Pulikovsky, did not make it into the second round, which is set for June 17. Viktor Cherepkov, the former Vladivostok mayor and long-time Nazdratenko opponent, will face off against Sergei Darkin, the head of a local commercial fishing company whom many observers see as a Nazdratenko protege (see the Monitor, June 5). Meanwhile, as a result of the rises in energy prices, the price of bread in Primorsky Krai has gone up an average of 1.5 rubles (some 4 cents) per loaf–a significant sum for persons on pensions and other low fixed incomes (NTV.ru, June 6).
TWO RED FLASHPOINTS IN THE WESTERN CIS.