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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baltics Harbor Y2K Fears of Russian Power

TALLINN, Estonia -- Russian power stations have the millennium computer problem under control and the year change on Jan. 1 won't cause disruptions in the three Baltic Sea states or other ex-Soviet republics, a Russian energy official says.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been independent since 1991 and orient their economies and politics to Europe and the West. But their energy distribution systems, or grids, still are interconnected with Russia's.

Baltic officials fear that no matter how well prepared their own utilities are for the 2000 changeover, Y2K glitches in neighboring Russia could cause power outages at home.

Anatoly Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems and a recent Kremlin adviser, sought to dispel those fears.

"There will be no such electricity disruptions,'' he was quoted as saying in the newspaper Postimees on Thursday. He added that Russian utilities have spent half a year testing software and replacing Y2K-prone computers.

The problem is that computers programmed to read dates according to the last two digits might malfunction when "99,'' for 1999, turns to "00,'' for 2000, on Jan. 1.

Until recently, computer memory was limited and expensive, and dates were expressed in the shortest form, for example, "123199'' - instead of "12311999'' - for Dec. 31, 1999.

Chubais said he invited Estonian experts to Russia to verify energy firms' Y2K readiness. He said the countries also may post observers at each other's power stations on New Year's Eve.

Laar's press chief, Priit Poiklik, said Chubais's assurances wouldn't affect existing contingency plans, which include Estonia's cutting free of the common grid at the first sign of trouble around New Year's.

"This problem has worried us a lot,'' he said in an interview. "This concern has forced us to be ready for any Russian disruptions, and we will be.''

While Estonia can separate from the common grid and distribute electricity from local sources, Poiklik said the move would be costly, and Estonia can't remain detached indefinitely.

All three Baltics have taken steps to end their dependence on Soviet-era distribution systems, drawing up plans to hook up to Nordic and Polish grids.

Estonia is scheduled to finish laying a power cable under the Baltic Sea to Finland by 2002, enabling it to receive from and send electricity to the four Nordic countries.

"This potential Y2K problem with Russia drives home the need for more alternative energy sources,'' said the Estonian government spokesman. "The more alternatives, the more secure we are.''