Ukraine cuts power to pro-Russia separatist region

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine cut electricity to parts of an eastern region controlled by pro-Russian separatists on Tuesday, citing unpaid debt - a step the Kremlin said amounted to a rejection by Kiev of breakaway territories.

Three years after Moscow annexed the Crimean region, tensions between Ukraine and separatists in the Russian-held eastern part of the country remain high and a 2015 ceasefire is violated regularly.

“This night, the power supply to the temporarily occupied territory of Luhansk region was completely halted,” Vsevolod Kovalchuk, head of the state power distributor Ukrenergo, said on Facebook.

Local media quoted a separatist official as saying the rebel-held territory, which borders Russia, had been prepared for the suspension and would connect to other sources.

Boris Gryzlov, Moscow’s envoy to the long-running Ukraine peace talks, criticised the move as politically motivated and said Russia would provide power to the affected territory.

Luhansk residents told Reuters by phone that electricity supplies appeared to be working as normal.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to cut power to the territory was “another step by Ukraine on the road to rejecting territory,” which has been under separatist control since 2014.

Ukraine cut gas supplies to Luhansk in 2015, also blaming unpaid debts, and imposed a trade blockade on the occupied regions in March.

Kiev has accused the area of accumulating 2.6 billion hryvnias ($97.67 million) in unpaid electricity charges.

An American paramedic working for European security watchdog OSCE’s monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine was killed and two others injured on Sunday when their vehicle struck a mine near small village of Pryshyb, closed to Luhansk.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Editing by Andrew Heavens and Richard Lough