2nd Jun 2023

Putin weaponising winter against the EU, Kyiv warns

  • Temperatures in eastern Ukraine fall below minus 30 degrees Celsius
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Russia's destruction of Ukraine's power supplies is meant to push freezing refugees into the EU, Kyiv has warned.

"Russia is targeting exclusively civil infrastructure to provoke a total disaster that could lead to a new wave of migration of Ukrainian citizens to the EU," Ukraine said in a diplomatic note circulated in Brussels on Friday (21 October) in the margins of the EU summit and seen by EUobserver.

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"The aggressor is shelling not only the key substations of Ukrenergo, Ukraine's grid operator, but the generating equipment/grid infrastructure of thermal power plants and key co-generation plants as well," the memo said.

"This attack was unprovoked, had no military purpose other than to terrorise the people of Ukraine and create a total disaster in the country," it said.

"Russian energy workers are helping to destroy Ukraine's energy system. They advise the military on which objects to hit first as they know Ukraine's energy system since the epoch of Soviet Union (USSR)," it added, highlighting the systematic nature of Russian president Vladimir Putin's campaign.

The message was also pressed home by Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky personally in his video-address to EU leaders.

"Russia is provoking a new wave of migration of Ukrainians to European Union countries," he said on Thursday (20 October).

Russian missiles continued to strike Ukrainian power-supply targets over the weekend.

Temperatures in parts of Ukraine fall to below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter.

Some 4.3 million Ukrainians have already fled to the EU since Russia invaded in February.

Another 750,000 more still inside the country were expected to move in seek of heating and housing as temperatures fell, the Czech EU presidency estimated in mid-October, in a figure likely to have ballooned by now.

"On the eve of the winter season, hundreds of thousands of [Ukrainian] households remain without electricity and gas," the Ukrainian memo also said.

Europeans have been welcoming toward Ukrainian refugees so far.

But soaring living costs and energy prices in Europe meant "EU citizens may find it more difficult to continue providing temporary shelter in their own homes" as winter approaches, the Czechs warned.

Russian disinformation was also trying to stigmatise refugees, it added.

Putin has a track record of using migration to try to destabilise the EU, by provoking clashes between right and left-wing politicians.

His ally, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka, forced tens of thousands of mostly Arab migrants into Poland and the Baltic states in 2021, in what the EU at the time called "hybrid warfare".

Putin's bombing of civilian targets in Syria in 2016 to push people to the EU via Turkey was described at the time by US general Philip Breedlove as "deliberately weaponising migration".

Kyiv listed power-supply items, such as transformers, that Ukraine needed from the EU to keep the lights on.

It also listed the dozens of Ukrainian energy infrastructure pieces that Russia had demolished, writing before this weekend's latest attacks.

"We need to cut the flow of Russia's fossil revenues. Since the start of the war, EU payments for Russian fuel are over €100 billion," Ukraine said, as EU countries continue to buy Russian oil and gas for now.

"We call on our international partners to establish an escrow account and to repurpose payments for Russian gas to the needs of repair of damages to Ukrainian infrastructure," Zelensky's government said.

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