Russian air defence has power cut off

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The Independent Online
PERPLEXED RUSSIAN military air traffic controllers defending their once-mighty empire from attack along the Chinese border have been staring at blank radar screens over the past few days because no one paid the electricity bills.

Officials in the Russian Far East say military radars have been flickering on and off because the local electricity company cut the power over an unpaid $5.6m (pounds 3.7m) bill.

Had the Chinese air force roared across the border - Russia's recurring, though highly unlikely, nightmare - there is a chance that no one would have noticed so much as a tiny white blip.

The Russian air force and its defence systems in the Khabarovsk region - part of the frontline of Moscow's Far Eastern defence shield - was "without a reliable power supply for nearly three days", complained Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the head of the local air defence forces.

Nor was it alone. Interfax news agency reported that the local Strategic Missile Forces - in charge of the area's nuclear missiles - also lost power, although Moscow claimed that combat units were not affected.

The same officials pointed out that the Defence Ministry had received only 10 per cent of the funds earmarked for electricity in the budget.

The problems come as Russia leans more heavily on its air defences and nuclear deterrent because its conventional forces lack credibility, said a Western military analyst.

Russia has plenty of other nuclear missiles deployed across its vast territory, as well as a huge early warning ballistic-missile-detection system.

But the incident will cause more frustration for its generals, who still bury heads in hands at the memory of Mathias Rust, the German teenager who landed a small plane on Red Square in 1987, after eluding Soviet air defence systems.

In 1995, commandos seized control of power stations in Russia's Arctic region after a local power company disconnected one of the country's main nuclear submarine base, stopping the cooling system on the nuclear reactors of four decommissioned submarines - a move that threatened to cause a meltdown.

In 1994, power was cut for four hours to the central command post for Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles, causing it to switch to back-up generators.

Cutting off the power supply to military installations is technically illegal. The law, however, is not currently one of Russia's strengths.