Ukrainian police are blaming saboteurs yet again for blowing up an electricity pylon that shut down electricity for at least one-quarter of the residents of Crimea.
A previous power outage in November in the peninsula annexed by Russia also was blamed on sabotage. None of the culprits were ever identified or prosecuted.
Police in Ukraine's Kherson region, which borders Crimea, said on December 31 that the only functional high-voltage line providing electricity to Crimea had been cut off by a blast. They said they are setting up a commission to investigate the matter.
Ukrainian electricity company Ukrenergo said it was working to quickly restore power.
Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov denounced the incident as a "terrorist attack."
The latest outage comes as the power supply contract between Ukrenegro and Crimea is expiring. Whether to renew the contract has become a politically charged question.
Russian Energy Minister Aleksander Novak said December 31 that Kyiv was insisting that future contracts must refer to Crimea as "a territory of Ukraine," something Moscow does not accept.
Aksyonov also ruled that out, saying, "I consider it unacceptable" and calling Ukrainian authorities "blackmailers and terrorists who lie to people saying that Crimea will return to Ukraine. This will never happen."
Novak said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an opinion poll to be conducted among Crimeans asking if they agreed to be considered part of Ukraine or would accept "temporary difficulties" for three or four months by refusing to renew the contract. Russia has promised to bring new power supplies by undersea cable in the spring.
Crimea, which before the annexation relied on Ukraine for at least 70 percent of its electricity, suffered a severe blackout at the end of November after unidentified saboteurs blew up pylons supplying it with power.
Russia at that time boosted its supplies to the region and flew in emergency generators. Power from Ukraine was only partially restored after a few weeks and has made up a smaller share of the peninsula's power supply since then.
Novak said Crimeans would be better off completely cutting the ties to Ukraine.
"Ukraine has for a long time disrespected the contract for power supplies to Crimea," he said. "We have seen electricity pylons blown up, some armed mavericks who allegedly did not allow repairs to them, and lots of other nonsense."
Crimea's Fuel and Power Minister Svetlana Borodulina said the peninsula had lost at least one quarter of its power because of the latest cut-off.
The region, home to 2 million people, is now running on just 700 megawatts of electricity per day compared with between 950 to 1,000 megawatts per day before the outage, she said.
After the previous outage, Russia boosted supplies to the region to 400 megawatts per day by rushing to complete two undersea cables carrying power to the peninsula.
Officials and local residents said the problems caused by the incident were so far relatively minor.
However, in Sevastopol, authorities were forced to impose rolling blackouts cutting electricity every three hours to save power.
Borodulina advised Crimean residents to economize on electricity and take precautions such as preparing meals for New Year celebrations early, as intermittent power cuts were expected.
Russia aims to complete two more undersea cables in the spring, with the goal of making Crimea independent of Ukrainian electricity.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax, and TASS