The mayor of a Ukrainian town has denied appealing to Vladimir Putin for supplies of Russian gas after the Kremlin claimed to have begun pumping “humanitarian” deliveries to the border settlement without Kiev’s consent.
In a move that would challenge Kiev's authority inside Ukrainian terroritry, Dmitry Kozak, a Russian deputy prime minister, said on Monday night that Crimea had begun pumping gas to Genichesk, a town of 25,000 in the country's southern Kherson region, following an appeal from its mayor “in connection with the cold.”
“President’s Putin’s instructions have been fulfilled, gas has begun to flow from Crimea to the Genichesk district of Kherson region in Ukraine,” Mr Kozak said.
Earlier the Kremlin said Alexander Tulupov, the mayor of Genichesk, had appealed directly to the Russian president for assistance after part of the town was left without heating during a cold snap that caused pressure to drop in gas pipes.
Mr Tulupov denied making any such appeal on Tuesday, telling Ukrainian media that he wouldn’t have known how to approach Mr Putin even if he’d wanted to.
“How exactly could I appeal to the president of Russia?” Mr Tulopov said, adding that he had raised the issue of gas supplies only with Ukrainian authorities.
Genichesk sits at the head of an isthmus that connects the Ukrainian mainland with Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014.
The supply of gas to the border village would be a propaganda coup for the Kremlin, which has long sought to portray president Petro Poroshenko's post-revolutionary government as failing ordinary Ukrainians.
The incident follows several months of tensions over shared utilities on the Crimea-Ukraine border.
Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak Photo: Bloomberg The peninsula suffered several weeks of blackouts and electricity shortages after pro-Kiev activists sabotaged power lines carrying electricity into the region from Ukraine in November.
Supplies were cut off again on New Year’s Eve after Russia refused to sign a new supply contract that describes Crimea as part of Ukraine. Russian officials say it could take three to four months to fully restore power without access to the Ukrainian grid.
The two countries imposed tit-for-tat embargoes on one another’s food imports earlier this week, in part of trade war sparked by Ukraine’s adoption of a free-trade pact with the European Union.
In a separate development, researchers have said about half of the homes in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region were left without power after highly destructive computer malware infected energy providers.
Hundreds of thousands of people were left without power by the December 23 black out, which cyber security experts believe was sparked by a virus called Black Energy that infected at least three regional grid operators.
"This is the first time we have proof and can tie malware to a particular outage," Trend Micro researcher Kyle Wilhoit told Reuters. "It is pretty scary."