Why blackouts are dangerous to Ukraine’s nuclear sites

Why blackouts are dangerous to Ukraine’s

By Anastasia Kuznetsova

Last week, in a rare public appearance before an online audience, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out for the first time. He blamed Western countries — especially the United States — for inciting “a massive” attack against Russia and said he was ready to send his military to secure its borders. Putin made no mention of Ukraine though and instead referred to it only as “our colleagues.”

Putin also hinted at war with Europe, even going so far as saying those who had fought with him during WWII had “always wanted this.” In the weeks that followed, Putin warned Ukrainian Prime Minister Arlene Lutsenko, not to be too close to Germany and its allies, warning her that the West was planning to use “an aggressive policy and create chaos and violence throughout Europe.”

Putin also vowed to protect Ukraine from any kind of interference by external forces. He accused Europeans of trying to impose their values on others and said they were looking to control Europe’s energy supplies.


In the words of one expert on international energy relations


In the words of one expert on international energy relations, the president said: “The best thing the EU can do is to cooperate with us and provide European companies an opportunity to develop their businesses and strengthen them.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Putin has been quite clear about his priorities on Poland and Russia — two former Soviet nations and which have long faced challenges from both sides over their decades-old ties.

What many observers were unaware of, however, was how much Putin really cares about Ukraine. During his campaign, he repeated in every interview that he had given on national television “only two conditions”: one, he said, was a cease-fire in Crimea; and two, he promised, the withdrawal of thousands of Ukrainian troops from eastern Ukraine. This meant that Kiev would relinquish nearly half its border territory, cut off access to water resources, and end all foreign aid programs and economic assistance, while still maintaining a strategic partnership with Moscow. It was this promise which enabled Russia to win over most of the voters and to ensure the return of its favorite politician, Viktor Yanukovych, as prime minister. For Putin, this was a matter of pride, because he believed that once again having a friend in the center of the continent meant that he and the country needed to work together. “It was good for [Putin],” notes Andrew Ross Sorkin, of Columbia University in New York.

Putin is seen here talking with Foreign

Putin is seen here talking with Foreign Affairs Adviser Anna Astley Yermolova, right, after receiving a phone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (

Putin spoke repeatedly of his great love of Ukraine and expressed his willingness to keep up working through the situation there, even calling his longtime ally Kyiv president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his cellphone the next day, writing that he had spoken with him. While there were signs that Russian support for Ukrainians could wane — as Ukraine reported growing shortages of everything from flour to gas — Putin and Zemenkov worked closely together to try to bring Ukraine back into the European Union.

But, like many other issues, including the annexation of Crimea, none of these efforts worked. When the Cold War ended, Ukraine found itself without anyone to turn to in order to solve its difficult problems. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was little chance of Ukraine becoming independent as a nation. Nor could Russia help it in fighting a civil war it could not wage, especially since it had already given up almost everything in Afghanistan. In late 1991, when the newly elected Mikhail Gorbachev came to office, he offered to make peace with the US. But because the West did not want to give up its main political rival, Gorbachev turned down offers of dialogue as well as a ceasefire, leaving the two superpowers to talk directly with each other. Eventually, the Americans pushed through on their own terms to end their longest war on Russia, effectively ending the standoff that they had instigated.

This incident occurred just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall

This incident occurred just months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the same time, however, Putin’s government in Russia began making moves to take advantage of Ukraine’s natural gas that came flowing in through the Baltic Sea and was being used for domestic needs, particularly to meet the enormous demand for energy in Soviet-era Russia. In September 1991, Gazprom agreed to buy 10 billion cubic meters of gas. Within less than four years, Gazprom and another Russian company began importing what will later become known as liquefied natural gas from Belarus and Poland, where governments had previously refused to allow pipelines into Russia. And when Ukraine finally stopped exporting oil and gas — and lost its last main source of income — the state became reliant upon private suppliers to generate new sources of revenue, especially from the importation of coal that Russia desperately needed and in which the Kremlin wanted a place to store its wealth. These events led to Russian-Korean trade deals giving Russia more influence in Eastern Europe and even helped to persuade the Russians that they could stop paying taxes to Ukraine on anything from vodka to tea.

There were, of course, some bad outcomes

There were, of course, some bad outcomes to opening Ukraine’s markets to the world, too. As part of an agreement between Russia and France, Ukraine was able to sell grain, but only through Russian-style auctions, in which buyers could choose what to get and could bid against each other for the lowest price, meaning that prices soared above levels reached in previous years. Meanwhile, Ukraine was forced to borrow money at astronomical rates from the IMF. Soon there were more than $1 trillion dollars of debt outstanding. What these debts represented for Ukraine was the equivalent of about 17% of its GDP, or roughly 50% of total exports — including copper and steel. Moreover, Ukraine’s economy was suffering from structural problems that could only be solved by financial aid.

Yet despite all this, Putin and Zemenkov continued to push forward. Their primary goal was to restore what they perceived as the true essence of Ukraine, or what they saw as the key to reviving its past glory. They also hoped to cement Russia’s position in European affairs so long as they could gain influence there. So, in 1992, the two presidents signed an updated treaty after the original agreement with the US, allowing them to maintain contacts with Congress while continuing to receive $500 million dollars yearly in funding from the US. In addition, the treaty allowed Zemenkov to continue leading the security council until 2040. Both agreements were made public at large meetings held over the next several years in a row, with Putin and Zemenkov making speeches and introducing themselves in person.

But despite this progress, Putin started to lose patience after a series of embarrassing and unsettling developments. On May 27, 1991, under pressure from the West, Zelenskyy resigned, in protest over the ouster of his predecessor as Polish Prime Minister. In retaliation for this humiliation, the Poles demanded Zelenskyy leave. Another significant event occurred when Kyiv defaulted on its debt payments, forcing it to pay the whole $2.3 billion owed by mid-September, along with interest on loans they issued and additional penalties. That forced Kyiv to start an internal investigation to find out why the whole thing happened. Zemenkov, however, continued to remain largely absent from the situation. Despite reports that he might now be gone altogether, in June of 1994, Zemenkov wrote a letter in which he told his fellow citizens: “I shall remain present for the last days. I am grateful to you for your confidence in me as well as your support.”

In November of that year, shortly after the World Trade Organization declared that the WTO was ready to take over as the global body controlling world trade, Putin visited Poland and praised its leadership in resolving disputes. However, despite these encouraging signals that the times had changed and that the world now looked toward cooperation rather than conflict, these high hopes seemed like a pipe dream.

It should come as no surprise


It should come as no surprise, then, that on August 4, 1995, Putin visited Ukraine in front of his cabinet. Here he took stock of the situation and presented plans to the leaders of the two countries, including the EU, on ways to resolve the crisis. While this was one of the few meetings between these leaders or the administration as a whole, it was still a highly unusual one — and something most leaders can only dream of meeting. With his presentation, Putin outlined proposals to address the problem of over $700 billion worth of frozen assets stolen from the East by corrupt officials. First, he proposed the creation of three separate entities under oversight: one, a National Bank, to replace the failed Central Asian Bank; two, a Credit Committee, to oversee credits sold in the EU; and three, the Eurasian Economic Corporation, to handle economic matters inside Ukraine. However, the plan was rejected by the Commission, which called for Russia to accept the role of mediator and urged the establishment of direct talks with Ukraine. After all the debate and negotiations, these talks did not happen until January 3, 2000. The result was a deal called Minsk Agreement, which included the freezing of the accounts of Ukranian banks and asset freezes on top executives. Of course, it didn’t end the saga. A second round of negotiations followed in July and August 2001. Finally, in 2002, the fate of the project was decided, and the process began to move forward. Ultimately, $500 million dollars were distributed to Ukraine, although the process was far from complete until February 14, 2003.


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