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Cutting us Off: Putin’s Invasion Targets Europe’s Power Grids

A burning fire at a power station in Kharkiv, late September 11, 2022, following a Russian missile strike. (Photo by Yevhen TITOV / AFP)

As the winter months grow closer, so too does the threat of millions of Europeans paying the price of Putin’s relentless attacks on power grids for the last nine months. Most recently, Putin’s September 21 announcement of escalation launched a barrage of missiles striking electrical and heating plants across Ukraine. Russia also has control of a majority of Ukraine’s coal mines in the East. These attacks, combined with the occupation of Zaporizhzya, are spelling out a freezing winter, with the potential for many Europeans to go without heat, gas, water, or electricity this year.

We’ve been covering the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant situation since it was first occupied by Russian forces in July. The situation has only grown more dire as summer turns to winter: for safety reasons, the plant isn’t generating electricity. But it is being used as a fortress for Russia to carry out strikes on their biggest targets: Ukrainian military forces, civilians, and other power grids.

It’s a move both calculated and careless: holding Europe’s largest nuclear power plant hostage is a huge bargaining chip, one that has the world’s attention as organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plead for Putin to give up the plan. But the carelessness of risking nuclear fallout in an attempt to bring Europe to its knees as a mere show of force exhibits Putin’s ravenous need to prioritize Russia saving face from an embarrassing invasion, above any loss of human life. 

Lesser known plants are also being obliterated by Russia’s attacks; On September 12, Moscow attacked Ukraine’s second largest thermal plant in Kharkiv leaving the city without electricity or water. Civilians stuck on trains during the attack had to abandon transportation and walk through pitch black tunnels under the threat of more bombs falling. 

Following this attack, one of Zelenskyy’s presidential advisors, Mykhaylo Podolyak,  stated, “Direct, deliberate strikes on critical civilian infrastructure, particularly on the largest Kharkiv TPP-5, is an unconditional manifestation of Russian terrorism and its desire to leave civilians without electricity and heat massively. Such a cowardly “response” for the escape of the Russian army from the battlefield.”

Just last week, Russia launched an air raid against both power grids and civilians. In response, President Zelenksyy said, “They want panic and chaos, they want to destroy our energy system,” said President Zelenskyy. “The second target is people. Such a time and such targets were specially chosen to cause as much damage as possible.”

As these massive sources of the continent’s energy are shuttered, what happens this winter?

Two different scenarios may arise. Optimistically, it’s possible that Russia playing the energy card throughout the spring and summer gave the rest of Europe time to prepare on both a structural and individual level to survive a winter without Russian or Ukrainian energy. 

If this were to happen, “We will be completely decoupled from Russia,” said Chair of the Warsaw Security Forum, Katarzyna Pisarska, referring to this case as “the last winter” Russia will control Europe’s power if the surrounding countries can hold out this winter. 

Countries like Germany have already given their citizens pointers on how to bear down and bundle up to conserve heat and energy as Russia’s chokehold on the power supply continues. 

Alternatively, thousands could suffer and even perish without adequate shelter this winter. This perilous situation shows the true colors of Putin’s invasion; it was all about showing Russia’s “strength” and exploiting Europe’s reliance on Russia’s resources. SARFAN community, stay warm and stay informed.

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