Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia and Ukraine in Standoff ; Nations Are Circling over Power Outage That Has Affected Crimea

Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia and Ukraine in Standoff ; Nations Are Circling over Power Outage That Has Affected Crimea

Article excerpt

Kiev has closed its airspace to Russian planes and Moscow has cut off gas supplies to Ukraine.

Ground zero of the latest confrontation between Ukraine and Russia was a sea of mud and not much else on Wednesday.

About half a dozen fighters, their boots sinking into a sodden field, were guarding the downed electricity pylons that were blown up last weekend, plunging much of the disputed Crimean peninsula and the Kherson region of mainland Ukraine into darkness.

Activists from the Tatar minority and Ukrainian nationalists attacked the first repair crews and their police escorts seeking to restore the felled pylons, driving them away. The situation has been at an impasse since, with more than 1.2 million people in Crimea without power and no sign of any repair crews.

"The people of Crimea are not supposed to feel like they live in a resort while the country is at war," said Oleksiy Byk, 34, a chunky, bearded veteran who serves as the area spokesman for the Right Sector, a right-wing Ukrainian organization violently opposed to any accommodation with Russia.

Mr. Byk said he used to fight the separatists in the east, but after the cease-fire negotiated under the Minsk peace accords finally took hold in September, he and many other hard-core fighters gravitated to the area just north of Crimea. They are spoiling for a fight, since Ukraine rejects Russia's March 2014 annexation of the Black Sea peninsula as illegal.

A desultory economic blockade has been enforced since September, but the downing of the pylons seems to have prompted a new standoff between Moscow and Kiev, with each side finding new ways to increase the tension daily.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, said the country was closing its airspace to all Russian planes, after earlier terminating all flights between the two countries. In a you-can't-fire-me-I-quit move, he also ordered Naftogas, the state- run oil and gas company, to stop buying Russian gas.

But the Russian gas giant, Gazprom, had announced earlier in the day that it was cutting off all gas supplies to Ukraine -- not linked to the electricity issue, at least not publicly -- because Kiev had not paid its bills. …

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