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By Darya Korsunskaya
MOSCOW, March 24 Moscow plans to end Crimea's
reliance on Ukraine for electricity by helping to build
gas-fired power stations and possibly linking the region to
Russia's grid, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on
Medvedev told a government meeting that Moscow may have to
take part in "international negotiations" to secure near-term
supplies, suggesting Russia may be forced to talk to Ukraine's
new leaders over Crimea, which it annexed from Kiev last week.
Parts of Crimea, which receives around 80 percent of its
electricity supplies from Ukraine, faced blackouts late on
Sunday in what the local power company said were technical
problems but which underlined the region's vulnerability.
"On electricity, there are the possibilities to unite Crimea
with Russia's unified energy system through the Kerch strait,"
Medvedev said, referring to the small stretch of water
separating the region from Russia's southern rim.
Running a cable through the strait could cost between $200
million and $300 million, based on a Reuters calculation of how
much it cost Russia to lay cable to an island in its far east.
Since Crimea voted to join Russia in a referendum decried in
the West and Kiev as illegal, the pro-European Union authorities
in the Ukrainian capital have said they may take "technical"
measures if Ukrainian forces in the region were harassed.
Ukrainian troops and their families began evacuating from
Crimea on Monday, as Kiev effectively acknowledged defeat by
Russian forces who stormed one of the last of their remaining
bases on the peninsula.
Crimea's power company said Sunday's outage was due to
technical problems in a power line from the Ukrainian mainland.
"(Energy provision) needs to be decided through
international negotiations," Medvedev said.
"We need to choose the best way to supply the peninsula."
Medvedev said that, over time, gas production in the region
could increase by 1.5 to 2 times, something that state
controlled gas company Gazprom had "initiatives" on.
To secure its fuel needs, Crimea's leadership has said it
will nationalise the peninsula's oil and gas infrastructure,
including offshore drilling firm Chornomornaftohaz, a subsidiary
of the Ukrainian state energy company.
Russia has moved swiftly to consolidate its control over
Crimea, introducing the rouble currency on Monday. Medvedev said
Moscow could give the region status as a special economic zone.
"With all the current problems, we need to think about the
long-term development prospects of Crimea. We will need to
provide additional preferences to new regions, like tax
exemptions," he said.
"I also believe there is a possibility of considering the
establishment of a special economic zone in Crimea."
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Anastasia
Lyrchikova and Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Anthony Barker)