While the negotiations over the terms of a large U.S. food aid package were being discussed in Moscow, Russian officials reported that Kamchatka, a region in Russia’s Far East, is in the grip of a near-catastrophic energy crisis. Officials from a special federal government commission set up to deal with the crisis arrived in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, the region’s capital, where temperatures have already dropped to minus 18 degrees Celsius. In Moscow, a spokesman for the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Sergei Shoigu, who heads the special commission, said Kamchatka’s energy crisis is acquiring an “ominous” nature. It is even, he said, threatening the lives of local residents. The ministry reported that electricity is available only for three to four hours a day. Local electricity producers have enough fuel left to operate for eight to twelve days. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak said apartment buildings, schools and hospitals in the region have been left with no electricity at all. Bulgak promised that Kamchatka will not freeze this winter, and that heating and electricity will be restored immediately. A tanker carrying petroleum supplies bound for Kamchatka reportedly left the Far Eastern port of Nakhodka yesterday. According to press reports, Russia’s Pacific Fleet will provide the region with an additional 10,000 tons of fuel oil. Other shipments, the reports claimed, are also en route to the area (Russian agencies, November 4). Last week, Kamchatka’s regional parliament passed a resolution asking the United Nations for “fuel aid” (Moscow Times, November 5).
The energy picture in other regions is also bleak. The Ministry of Fuel and Energy reported that Russia’s reserves of coal to supply power stations had shrunk by 420,000 tons in October and are now only at 85.2 percent of planned reserves. The ministry said that while reserves of fuel oil have increased, the situation regarding preparations for winter is “complicated.” Fuel reserves in certain regions, including Novosibirsk, Ivanova, Murmansk and a number of Far Eastern provinces, are in a “critical” state. According to the ministry, the problem–not surprisingly–involves financing. The ministry reported, for example, that only 3 percent of the funds designated for buying fuel for Russia’s Far North have actually been allocated (Russian agencies, November 4). Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, reportedly has only two days of fuel reserves left, while the residents of Chukotka, adjacent to Alaska, may have to be evacuated this winter (Moscow Times, November 5).
“Izvestia,” meanwhile, led today’s edition with a report on critical shortages of medicines in various regions, including Volgograd, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Krasnoyarsk. According to the newspaper, patients in hospitals in these regions have to bring with them more than half the medicines they need for treatment (Izvestia, November 5).
DOES RUSSIA REALLY NEED GRAIN SHIPMENTS? U.S.