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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Energy Firm Blacks Out Debt-Laden Army Units

Servicemen in southeastern Siberia were left in the dark when the local electricity company turned off the power supplies to military facilities because of unpaid bills.

The Chitaenergo company pulled the plug Wednesday night on more than 20 facilities in the Chita region, near Russia's border with China, in an attempt to force the Defense Ministry to pay the more than 175 million rubles [$27.8 million] that it owes.

Several of the units remained cut off Thursday despite repeated appeals by the military to Chitaenergo officials to restore power, a duty officer at the command center of the Zabaikalsky Military District said.

The officer, who would not give his name, stressed that all the chains of command and control and strategic facilities remain fully operational, powered by backup diesel generators. He said most of the facilities affected by the cuts, are warehouses, auxiliary services and residential areas, but would not specify their location.

The officer said that this week's power outage is not an isolated incident.

He said the electricity company turns off electricity supplies to a large number of military facilities in the district for an hour every day to remind the military of unpaid bills.

"It is tolerable now, but just imagine how we feel here in these [harsh climatic] conditions in winter with people sitting with candles," the officer said.

The military say they will appeal to the local prosecutor's office for charges to be brought against Chitaenergo if the electricity supply is not fully restored.

The Zabaikalsky Military District's debt to Chitaenergo has already exceeded 175 million rubles and continues to grow as the federal government remains unable to pay its arrears to the Defense Ministry.

Reached by telephone Thursday, a senior dispatcher at the Chitaenergo control center, Vladimir Bardakov, said his company will continue to switch off electricity supplies in the future to civilian and military customers.

"This entire region is so impoverished that many of them simply cannot pay ... but what else can we do?" Bardakov said.

The company also suspended electricity supplies Thursday afternoon to the local railway, which is part of the key Trans-Siberian Railroad. Dozens of cargo and passengers trains were stranded as a result

A federal government order bans Russian electricity companies from cutting off key military facilities, such as command centers. But the companies still pull the plug.

A spokesman at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Moscow said Thursday he could not give a figure of how many electricity shutoffs had occurred in military units in recent months, but he said they happen in all of the ministry's military districts.

He added that the military prefer not to sue electricity suppliers but instead try to settle their disputes, if not their debts, through negotiation.

A unit of the Russian Black Sea Fleet unit, based in the Ukrainian port of Nikolayev, has repeatedly had both power and water supplies cut off and its bank accounts seized this year because of its failure to pay local utility suppliers.