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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Sent To Secure City's Heat, Electricity

The mayor of the Far East city of Partizansk has declared a state of emergency and ordered elite OMON troops to seize local nodes of the regional power grid to prevent United Energy Systems' subsidiary Dalenergo from turning off heat and electricity supplies.

Mayor Vitaly Starinchenko made the move this week after Vladivostok-based Dalenergo, the Primorye region's power monopoly, threatened to cut off Partizansk if it didn't pay its 100 million ruble ($3.5 million) debt to the utility.

"The only reason why Partizansk has electricity and heating despite not paying for it is because they've threatened us with machine guns," Dalenergo spokesman Mikhail Tsedrik said by telephone late Wednesday.

"The moment the armed forces are recalled from the power distribution points, we will immediately cut off power," he warned. "We cannot supply power for free."

Tsedrik said the company had appealed to the Interior Ministry and regional prosecutors to help end the siege.

In a statement, Dalenergo warned that "the intervention by armed police in the work of station personnel could lead to emergency situations."

Two years ago, few Russians had heard of Partizansk. But it became the epicenter of a national power crisis last winter -- called Russia's worst since World War II -- that was most acutely felt in Primorye. With temperatures falling to minus 45 degrees Celsius, hundreds of thousands of people in the region lived in dark, unheated homes for weeks at a time.

Prosecutors have opened more than a dozen criminal cases linked with the crisis and, in response to public outcry, the scandal-tainted governor of the region, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, was driven from office by President Vladimir Putin in February.

Dalenergo power grid is a vast, aging infrastructure that has suffered from service neglect and a lack of investment, a situation that has been aggravated by corrupt local administrations.

"The federal budget allocates financial resources to pay for fuel and energy, but all that money is in the hands of mediators -- municipal authorities. It is necessary to do something with them," said Gleb Grigor, a member of the State Duma's committee for the problems of the North and Far East.

With winter still officially more than a month away, there are already indications that the heating season will not be a peaceful one: UES has vowed to continue its policy of cutting off nonpaying customers, despite last year's crisis.

Another UES subsidiary, Permenergo, this week refused to heat a high-security prison in the Perm region, which prompted the warden of the facility to send a squad of armed guards to the local station and turn the heat on by force.

A Justice Ministry spokesman told The Moscow Times that it is illegal in Russia for utilities to cut off heat or electricity supplies to prisons, but UES was uncowed. There are also laws against cutting power or heat to military installations, but on Wednesday, Dalenergo said it had limited energy supply to 14 Pacific Fleet bases.

Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo, however, was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying that "no damages have been inflicted."

"All strategic objects of the Pacific Fleet are operating according to the usual regime," he said.