Heightened Tensions Over Destruction of Power Lines to Crimea

On November 22, Ukrainian Tartars and nationalist groups destroyed the main power lines supplying electricity to Crimea from Ukraine.  Millions on the Crimean Peninsula were left without power as a result, further stoking tensions between Russia and Ukraine.  To further complicate this delicate situation, Tatar and Ukrainian nationalists have blockaded the damage site and prevented repairs required to restore power to Crimea.  The groups are demanding that Russia release political prisoners and allow for the entry of international human rights organizations to monitor the precarious situation on the ground in Crimea.  The Ukrainian Tartars accuse the Russians of systemic discriminating against them  in Crimea.

The Russian government has called the destruction of the power lines an act of terrorism and positioned some 10,000 military troops, helicopters and tanks on the Crimean border with Ukraine.  It is also suspected that the delays by Ukraine in the restoration of the electrical supplies to Crimea could be a move to demonstrate to Europe and the international community that the Russian threat in Eastern Ukraine and the region is still active and possibly growing.

This comes as the West is looking to recruit, and cooperate with, Russia in the fight against ISIS in Syria.  Ukraine is justifiably worried that the U.S. and the EU may ease, or even remove, select sanctions on Russia as part of their somewhat craven determination to bring Russia into the anti-ISIS coalition (a task made harder by the recent Turkish shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 aircraft).

Creating a new crisis in Eastern Ukraine could discourage the easing or removal of sanctions and refocus international attention on President Putin‘s aggression near-by.  Even if such concerns of the Ukrainian government are somewhat exaggerated (but probably not), the fact that it cannot seem to control such actions on its own territory could prompt a Russian military response into Ukrainian territory. Such a response would likely be viewed by many as a violation of the September ceasefire agreement, even though several Western capitals, including Washington, may quietly curse what they regard as a gratuitous provocation by Kiev.