EU’s Josep Borrell: Putin aiming to make Ukraine ‘a black hole'

Russian air strikes have caused widespread power cuts across beleaguered country

Oleksandr Antonenko, 53, stands on a balcony of his apartment damaged by a Russian rocket in Kherson, Ukraine. Reuters
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The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Monday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to destroy Ukraine’s power grid and plunging “Ukrainians into the darkness and cold” as temperatures dropped below freezing.

Mr Borrell was speaking to reporters in Brussels as he arrived at a summit of European Union development ministers.

“Putin continues bombing Ukraine. Putin continues trying to make Ukraine a black hole, no light, no electricity, no heating,” he said. “We have to continue our support, providing more material for Ukrainians to face the winter without electricity,”

The EU’s 27 member states are studying a recent proposal from the European Commission to support Ukraine with €1.5 billion ($1.57 billion) in concessional loans per month next year to help the country keep its public services running and repair infrastructure destroyed by Russia.

The European Investment Bank and the City of Kyiv on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding that highlights their commitment to collaborate on financing the modernisation of Kyiv's metro at a cost of over €450 million to end its dependency on Russian spare parts. They also agreed on the necessity to finance the reconstruction of social housing affected by Russian bombings.

The World Bank expects the Ukrainian economy to contract by 35 per cent this year.

A fresh round of Russian strikes on Ukraine caused the worst damage so far in the nine-month conflict last Wednesday, leaving millions of people with no light, water or heating.

Temperatures in the capital Kyiv are this week expected to fall as low as minus 8°C.

Sergey Kovalenko, chief operating officer of Yasno, which provides energy to Kyiv, said the situation in the city had improved but remained "quite difficult".

City authorities said workers were close to restoring power, water and heating, but high consumption levels meant some blackouts had been imposed.

The Kremlin last week denied its attacks on Ukraine's electricity network were aimed at civilians, but said Kyiv could "end the suffering" of its population by meeting Russia's demands to resolve the conflict.

In Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine abandoned by Russian troops this month, only 17 per cent of customers of grid operator Ukrenergo had power.

Zelenskyy and Klitschko clash again

The country's energy crisis triggered a public spat between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Kyiv’s mayor Vitali Klitschko at the weekend.

Mr Zelenskyy accused Mr Klitschko of not doing enough to help the capital’s beleaguered residents, saying that “more work is needed".

Mr Klitschko said 430 “warming centres” were helping residents cope with the cold.

"I do not want to become involved in political battles, particularly in the current situation," the mayor said in a video posted on Telegram.

"That is senseless. I have things to do in the city."

The two men had clashed before the war on the way the capital and its services were run.

There were no large-scale Russian missile strikes on Ukraine on Sunday, but Mr Zelenskyy warned that Russia would surely launch new attacks on his country this week.

"Our defence forces are getting ready, the entire country is getting ready," he said. "We have worked out all the scenarios, including with our partners."

A Ukraine military spokesman said a Russian warship capable of firing cruise missiles had recently been deployed to the Black Sea with Kalibr-type missiles on board. "This indicates that preparations were under way," said spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk.

EU members have so far provided $8 billion ($8.32 billion) in military support for Ukraine. Mr Borrell has previously said this figure represents about 45 per cent of the amount the US has contributed to help the country.

Meanwhile, the situation at the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remained confused.

The head of Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy company said there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to leave the plant, which they seized in March.

But the Russian-backed administration of the region rejected such claims, saying Zaporizhzhia remained under Russian control.

"The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the [nuclear plant]," the Russia-installed administration of Enerhodar said. "This information is not true."

Repeated shelling around Zaporizhzhia has sparked fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

Updated: November 28, 2022, 11:39 AM