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Energy terror: Russia weaponizes winter, begins to freeze defiant Ukraine

Energy terror: Russia weaponizes winter, begins to freeze defiant Ukraine

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Virendra Pandit

 

New Delhi: As Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine entered the ninth month on Thursday, it has now weaponized bitter winter to freeze its war-torn neighbor, many of whose areas plunged into darkness amid water, food, and fuel shortages.

Now, Russia is likely to tighten the screws on Europe as well.

Moscow knocked out the power supply which has kept millions of Ukrainians warm, the media reported on Thursday.

Temperatures dropped below zero on Wednesday as night fell with millions of Ukrainians without heat, light, or water after Russian forces fired scores of missiles against its neighbor’s power infrastructure.

War-torn, the Ukrainian officials enacted emergency measures to deal with blackouts.

Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure plunged the war-weary but still defiant country into wintry darkness, threatening to trigger another refugee exodus and underscoring Kyiv’s need for more air defense systems.

Ukraine took three nuclear plants offline after rocket attacks knocked out power lines and disabled the reactors from transmitting electricity. Even before the latest waves of Russian missiles, months of attacks had wrought over USD 1.9 billion worth of damage to the national power grid, which will take considerable time to repair, officials said.

“Energy terror continues,” Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Telegram.

“We will withstand. They won’t break us.”

After suffering a series of battlefield reverses at the hands of Ukraine’s army, including a partial troops’ withdrawal from Kherson, Moscow turned to target the country’s energy infrastructure to crush the Ukrainians’ spirit. With fighting expected to slow down as winter makes it more difficult to cross obstacles such as muddy steppes, the Ukrainians remained defiant.

Russia’s stock of precision-guided artillery munitions “has been significantly reduced” and cannot be rapidly replenished because of trade restrictions on computer chips, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday.

Ukraine’s Air Force said it shot down 51 of the latest barrage of almost 70 Russian missiles, but they had a devastating impact on Ukraine’s ability to keep the lights on and heat homes.

“They’re essentially depleting their best missiles by targeting civilian infrastructure for something that will not bear strategic or tactical significance on the front line,” said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “This is not a very great long-term strategic move for the Russians.”

Still, before the latest wave of rockets, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that millions of lives are at risk in Ukraine this winter because of damaged infrastructure that has left 10 million people, or around one-quarter of the population, without power and other essentials.

President Zelensky’s administration has set up emergency points for Ukrainians to weather blackouts, and the US and European Union governments have supplied his government with new equipment, including generators and fuel. Ukraine is also trying to source power from the near-obsolete Russian auto-transformers that are needed in Ukraine’s Soviet-designed electricity grid.

“It’s hard to run a modern society on fancy camping equipment,” said Joseph Majkut, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ energy security program. “This is a very cruel type of warfare, and it portends a hard winter in Ukraine.”

The UK late last week pledged to provide air defense equipment worth 50 million pounds (USD 60 million), while the US and Germany delivered National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems and an IRIS-T system, respectively.

Meanwhile, European Union (EU) officials are worried that the devastation to the energy grid may touch off another exodus of Ukraine’s refugees to the bloc. Millions of Ukrainians had already fled overseas since February to escape the inconclusive war.

“The Russian strategy now seems to be to make those conditions so extremely horrible that people give in and maybe put pressure on the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate some sort of peace,” said Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

Zelensky has repeatedly ruled out negotiations with Russia until it withdraws forces from all the country’s territories, including Crimea.

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