Russians are cold: a wave of breakdowns leaves many towns without heating

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Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia, has been the latest large city in the country to join the list of massive heating blackouts in one of the coldest winters on record. An electrical substation in the main Russian port in the Pacific burned last Tuesday and left 475 apartment blocks and hundreds of other homes at the mercy of the cold, about -10º on average. And it has not been the only case: other districts with thousands of residents experienced similar situations before. According to the Russian Ministry of Construction, between December 30 and February 22, 4,382 incidents were recorded in community services throughout the country. The collapse of communal services is due to a host of factors. On the one hand, the sanctions imposed by the invasion of Ukraine have made access to the parts needed by the energy facilities difficult. On the other hand, the budget is absorbed by military expenses to maintain a war that is heading into its third year. The Russian Ministry of Finance has maintained public financing of housing maintenance for this year, although due to inflation it is reduced by more than 5% in real terms – if official inflation is real – but then it will be worse: it will cut spending by 43% in 2025 and 25% in 2026. The biggest alarm signal came from Podolsk, on the outskirts of Moscow, at the beginning of January. Some 20,000 people were left without heat as the region suffered a terrible cold snap with temperatures of -30 degrees. Technicians would not be able to fully restore the heat circuit until two weeks later, and images of residents warming themselves around improvised bonfires went viral in the Russian media. Similar incidents also occurred in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, where another 14,000 people were left without heating, and Lipetsk, south of Moscow, with 10,000 affected. According to the chairman of the parliamentary committee on Construction, Housing and Communal Services, Sergei Pakhomov, approximately 70% of the heating, water and sewage infrastructure showed serious wear and tear in 2022, and the situation has worsened last year. The proposed solution by the State Duma is to further tighten the pockets of the Russians. Deputy Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the defense committee of the lower house, has called for a 15% increase in the community bill. “From a political point of view, it is probably true that the rate should not be increased so that the population «Do not say ugly words, but no one has addressed the economic component: the rate must be at least equivalent to inflation,» Kartapolov said on his Telegram channel without addressing the reason why prices have skyrocketed since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine.Sanctions have hit the daily lives of Russians directly and indirectly. The Government's budgets are supported by hydrocarbon revenues, and its oil and gas companies face great difficulties in being able to import the machinery they need to operate. The Lukoil gasoline refinery in Nizhny Novgorod, one of the largest in the country, has reduced its production by half due to a breakdown that cannot be solved “in the short term,” as the company explained to the Kommersant newspaper in mid-January. The cap on the price of Russian oil introduced by the United States, the European Union and other Western countries has boosted the export of Russian refined products. However, much of its infrastructure comes from other nations and sanctions pose a challenge in the long run. Around 5% of the gasoline the country produces comes from that plant, located half a thousand kilometers east of Moscow. The compressor equipment of one of its two units failed and, according to the newspaper's sources, will not be repaired before spring. “We are doing everything possible to restore production as soon as possible,” Lukoil said in a statement. The company stopped selling 95 octane gasoline on the stock market.Here you can consult the latest Letters from the correspondentFollow all the information from Economy and Business on Facebook and xor in our weekly newsletter

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