On Sunday, saboteurs in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region blew up one of the electrical towers that carries the main power lines from the mainland into Crimea, cutting those lines and leaving the Russian-claimed peninsula without electricity. Some power has been restored to Crimean cities using generators, but most of the peninsula is still in the dark (and, to the extent that Crimea’s water pumps depend on electricity, it’s also without easy access to water). Ukrainian officials, who probably aren’t exactly busting their asses to remedy this situation to begin with, are reportedly being blocked from even reaching the damaged pylons, let alone repairing them, by crowds of Crimean Tatar protesters. The Tatars, who say that they’ve been badly treated since Russia claimed control over Crimea last year, are demanding that Moscow release political prisoners and allow human rights monitors into Crimea, sentiments that were obliquely endorsed earlier today by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (though he didn’t address the electrical sabotage).
Kiev, meanwhile, announced that it’s banning cargo traffic between Crimea and the mainland, in what appears to be a bid to blockade Crimea. The peninsula still depends on traffic from mainland Ukraine for just about everything–food, water, other basic humanitarian needs–so a cut off could have serious consequences for people living there. Something like this has been possible since Crimea broke away from Ukraine last year, and while Russia has been working on plans to build a massive bridge connecting Crimea directly to Russia, as well as an underwater electrical connection to put Crimea on the Russian energy grid, neither of these things is going to be ready for at least a couple of years. Russia can ferry supplies to Crimea, but that’s obviously much more inefficient than truck traffic from the mainland. The only thing that’s been keeping Ukraine from cutting Crimea off, really, has been the threat of further Russian escalation in the Donbas region. Which could certainly happen at this point, but I suspect that Kiev’s desire to avoid that possibility may have recently declined, thanks mostly to ISIS.
Kiev still has the internationally recognized claim on Crimea, and it has to gall a little that Crimea’s status has been completely buried, first by the civil war in Donbas but then, more problematically, by Russia’s involvement in Syria. After Paris, the Ukrainians may rightly fear that the rest of the world is preparing to forgive and forget Russia’s “annexation” of Crimea in an effort to build a united front against ISIS. So while there’s nothing to support the idea that Kiev ordered Crimea’s power to be cut, it may very well appreciate having this opportunity to remind the rest of the world about what happened there, even if it risks renewed fighting in Donbas.
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