Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Heat-Seeking Troops Seize Omsk Facility

Railroad troops in the Urals city of Omsk seized a heating plant last week to keep from freezing in their barracks.

In what is becoming something of a tradition of military takeovers of utility plants, a three-man patrol took over the facility Nov. 9 to ensure the municipal operator did not turn off the heat in an ongoing debt dispute. The unit kept the facility under guard until Monday.

Major Artur Asyan of the Omsk unit said in a telephone interview Tuesday that his unit owes 6 million rubles ($240,000) to the enterprise for heat, but has no money to pay this debt.

Federal law prohibits utility companies from cutting supplies to military units that, like Asyan's, are considered strategically important.

Asyan said the patrol sent to the facility was not armed, but the newspaper Vremya MN reported Tuesday that the patrol carried automatic rifles. The paper cited the operator's deputy chief engineer, Arkady Lunyov, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Asyan said the heat was turned on Oct. 15 all over Omsk, except for in his unit's territory. As a result, temperatures inside the barracks where 1,500 soldiers live and in two 16-story apartment buildings where officers and their families reside were as low as 6 degrees Celsius in late October and early November.

Asyan said his unit's officers repeatedly went to the plant last month when employees were not there and unlocked the pipe by which hot water flows into their radiators. But as soon as the engineers came to work in the morning, they turned the heat off again.

Asyan said when the unit's commanders appealed to the enterprise to stop cutting supplies, they were "told to go to hell."

"We had no choice but to send patrols to guard this facility 24 hours a day," he said.

Municipal authorities of Omsk intervened on Monday to allow the military unit to get heat from a boiler attached to a nearby factory.

But the factory's administrators have already warned the unit's commander, Colonel Nikolai Sidorov, that they too will cut supplies if the unit does not pay them.

"We have offered the plant the use of our soldiers and hardware for repairs in exchange for the heat, but they wouldn't accept it," Asyan said, adding that his unit will send dispatch patrols again if need be.

The case parallels an incident last month in which commanders of a division of the Strategic Missile Forces based in the Altai region took the local power plant under guard for a week.

Observers said at the time that the Altai case was far from the first and that the practice would only become more commonplace as the military sinks deeper into debt.