Ukraine’s Energy Infrastructure Crumbling Under Russian Attacks

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Russian airstrikes, shelling and bad weather have damaged Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, leaving 500 settlements in intermittent energy blackouts.

Ukraine’s grid operator Ukrenergo reported that energy consumption hovered near record highs on Friday, straining the already fragile power grid.

For a second winter, Russia is targeting the country’s electric infrastructure, sending dozens of drones on an almost nightly basis to hit power-generating facilities and distribution networks across the country.

Ukrenergo said a thermal power plant in the east had again been damaged by systematic and prolonged shelling, and elsewhere a power facility had been shut down for emergency repairs.

Meanwhile Ukrenergo urged residents to economize on the use of electricity in the face of continued Russian attacks.

“This morning Ukrenergo again recorded a high level of consumption, which is almost equal to yesterday’s record,” the grid operator said in a statement, adding that consumption was at its highest levels so far this heating season.

Ukraine, an energy exporter before Russia’s invasion in February 2022, has been forced to turn to emergency power imports from neighboring Romania and Poland this week to meet demand, Ukrenergo said.

“The power system remains in a difficult situation. For now, there is no free capacity at power plants,” it said.

EU aid debate

The European Union will find ways to provide financial aid to Ukraine despite Hungary’s threat to veto EU assistance, a senior official said Friday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block the EU’s 50-billion-euro ($53 billion) budget proposal to assist Kyiv through 2027.

A senior EU official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said if Hungary does veto the aid package, the EU could allocate a smaller amount of money to Ukraine for a shorter time, or the other 26 EU countries could extend their national contributions bilaterally to Kyiv.

“We know how existential it is. European leaders are responsible people — at least 26,” said the official, who is involved in an EU summit scheduled for next week.

Ukraine depends on economic aid from the West to keep its defensive war against Russia going.

Ukrainian soldiers train in a trench during Combined Arms Training in Wedrzyn, Poland, Dec. 7, 2023.

A senior EU diplomat, also speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, expressed hope that a compromise might be reached like last year when Orban objected to the EU’s $18 billion financial package aid to Ukraine but ultimately approved it after securing concessions from the EU for his country.

Hungary is also planning on blocking EU membership talks for Ukraine at next week’s summit.

The EU is due to consider a legal proposal on Tuesday allowing the use of sanctioned Russian frozen assets to help Ukraine. However, EU officials say Ukraine might not see the money any time soon because EU members are bickering over the amounts pledged for Ukraine.

The EU executive says some 28 billion euros worth of private Russian assets and a further 207 billion euros of the Russian central bank’s funds have been confiscated.

Some 125 billion euros of the latter sum is held by Belgian company Euroclear. Belgium estimated it would collect 2.3 billion euros in taxes on that in 2023-24. It said it would use those proceeds for Ukraine.

Putin presidency 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday his candidacy in the presidential election next March, after a Kremlin award ceremony during which war veterans and others pleaded with him to seek reelection in what Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called “spontaneous” remarks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony to present Gold Star medals to Heroes of Russia at the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Dec. 8, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a ceremony to present Gold Star medals to Heroes of Russia at the St. George Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Dec. 8, 2023.

Putin, who was handed the presidency by Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has already served as president for longer than any other ruler of Russia since Josef Stalin.

For Putin, 71, the election is a formality: With the support of the state, the state-run media and almost no mainstream public dissent, he is certain to win. He has no discernible successor.

About 80% of Russians approve of Putin’s performance, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. But it is not clear if that support is genuine or the result of Putin’s oppressive regime, which cracks down on any opposition.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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