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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Frigid Primorye to Get Cash for Heat

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East — Moscow on Tuesday relented in a war of words with regional bosses in the freezing far eastern Primorye region and rushed money to provide heat to thousands of people shivering in sub-zero temperatures.

The move followed several days of bitter recriminations between the Kremlin and Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko over who was responsible for the collapse of the territory’s creaking infrastructure and the lack of funds to buy heating fuel.

While accusations flew, people in small towns and villages in the region bundled themselves up in clothes at home and slept under layers of blankets as frozen water and sewage pipes burst around them.

RIA news agency quoted a spokesman for Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin as saying the ministry was opening two credit lines to Primorye worth a total of some $6 million and sending an additional $10 million in urgent financing.

Moscow also dispatched Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov to the region with orders to assess what was happening and who was to blame.

"We will sort everything out at the site and the conclusions will be in my report to the president," Klebanov told reporters on arrival in Vladivostok. He later visited the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet.

Pictures of heavily muffled people trembling in their flats in Primorye hit television screens about two weeks ago and an angry President Vladimir Putin called the situation an "utter disgrace."

But he said Moscow was not responsible for the suffering, putting the blame squarely on the regional administration and making clear that no new funds would be forthcoming.

Governor Nazdratenko returned the blow, saying the root of the problem was a huge debt run up by Moscow and its unwillingness to act to curb rocketing energy prices.

On Tuesday, the regional Emergency Situations Ministry said the situation in the northern Kavalerovo district was critical, with temperatures in the homes of some 15,000 local residents never exceeding 3 to 4 degrees Celsius.

Outside, the temperature was minus 27, it said.

"There is only enough heating oil to run for two days. A disaster may happen then," a spokesman for the ministry’s Primorye office said by telephone, referring to the fact that frozen water could start bursting pipes.

Residents of Kavalerovo, who have already appealed for help to local authorities and Moscow, wrote a letter Monday to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, asking him to step in.

Nazdratenko poured scorn over the move. Television reports showed him saying Alexy was unlikely to give the freezing people anything more than spiritual warmth.

Heating problems, aggravated by bouts of particularly nasty weather, also persist in other parts of the region, including the regional capital, Vladivostok.