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15 Mar, 2014 23:58

Crimean military thwarts sabotage of gas plant feeding peninsula

Crimean military thwarts sabotage of gas plant feeding peninsula

Crimean military and self-defense forces have prevented an attempt to sabotage and cripple the gas distribution center that feeds a number of socially critical facilities in the peninsula, including schools and medical centers, Crimean authorities said.

Around 11:00 GMT on Saturday the gas supply to Crimea was halted at one of the distribution centers near Strelkovaya, effectively cutting gas delivery to a number of areas in the eastern part of the Crimean peninsula. As a result a number of hospitals, medical centers, schools and apartment buildings were cut off from the gas supply.

A group of gas technicians, escorted by the Crimea’s newly created military, comprised of former Ukrainian troops who have sworn their allegiance to the republic, responded to the supply disturbance and set out to check the gas station.

“There they encountered a group of at least 20 armed men in camouflage,” the Cabinet of Ministers of Crimea announced. “These people were planting explosives at the facility in order to knock it out of action completely.”

Upon seeing the Crimean forces, they quickly fled towards the village of Strelkovaya, authorities explained. According to Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, the men sabotaging the facility introduced themselves as the member of the Border Troops of Ukraine, but retreated without any further explanation of what they were doing at the gas plant.

The gas supply has been restored, Crimean authorities said, adding that the “distribution station was taken under control by self-defense forces of Crimea in order to halt similar provocations in the near future.”

Aksyonov says such measures are needed to “ensure the energy security of the Republic of Crimea and the smooth functioning of critical infrastructure,” as cited by Crimean news agency.

Ukraine in the meantime has a completely different view on the situation and has yet again accused the third party, namely Russia, of military aggression. Ukrainian media in the meantime reported nothing about the diversion at the gas plant.

Security measures are high in Crimea ahead of Sunday’s referendum and following the official formation of the National Guard comprised of Maidan self-defense squads, many of whom are considered neo-fascist from the Right Sector and Svoboda Party. In addition, large quantities of weapons have been missing from Ukrainian depots, during the coup that deposed government in Kiev.

An election commission official installs a Crimean flag during preparations for a referendum at the polling station in Simferopol March 15, 2014.(Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

The National Guard units would act as guardians of the coup leadership and ideals, believes editor-in-chief of National Defense Magazine Igor Korotchenko.

“Roughly speaking, these will be the commissars of the Maidan, people with executive functions and the right to dismiss field commanders in case of any suspicion of disloyalty to the new Ukrainian authorities,” the journalist elaborated, saying the troops will be deployed to those areas which seek greater autonomy from Kiev and might be used “against the population and the Self-Defense Forces of Crimea.”

The Right Sector, which is believed to be the nucleus of the newly set up National Guard is notorious for its violent rhetoric and extremist actions.

This week, Yalta, a resort city in Crimea, on the north coast of the Black Sea, already witnessed sabotage actions from the Right Sector, when authorities found and dismantled a bomb in one of the local cafes. On Wednesday Aksyonov also announced he had information that the Right Sector might be planning an attack on one of the Ukrainian army units in the peninsula under the guise of Russian servicemen as a provocation to disrupt the referendum.

Ahead of the referendum the Russian foreign ministry warned that a number of fighters, including those from the Right Sector are acting across Ukraine, citing the attack in Kharkov on Friday that killed two people.

“We are receiving disturbing information that a column of armed Right Sector mercenaries, whose leaders announced the opening of the ‘Eastern Front’, has departed from Kharkov to Donetsk and Lugansk, while at one of the garment factories they are urgently sewing Russian uniforms,” Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Foreign Ministry also raised concerns with the Ukrainian Parliament’s move to “legitimize the Right Sector and other radicals” by converting them into official military units “such as the National Guard.”

This development, the ministry says, was discussed during the talks between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart John Kerry on Friday. The statement also says that Russia is receiving a large number of petitions from Ukraine asking Moscow for protection.

On Saturday, Russia vetoed a US sponsored UN Security Council’s resolution that sought to declare the Crimea referendum invalid, since it found the draft as countering the basic principle of international law enshrined in the Article 1 of the UN Charter – the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.

“The upcoming Crimean referendum is fully consistent with international law and the UN Charter, and its results should be the starting point in determining the future of the peninsula,” Lavrov said during a telephone conversation with Kerry. Lavrov once again stressed that Kiev should curb the activities of ultra-radical groups terrorizing those rejecting the coup, including the Russian speaking part of Ukraine’s population.