Ukraine partially resumed electricity supplies to Crimea yesterday, shortly after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with government officials in Kiev. The move indicates that Ukraine is under heavy pressure from the U.S. to abstain from intensifying its conflict with Russia and prevent tensions in the region from rising.
Biden visited Kiev on Dec. 7, over two weeks after unknown individuals sabotaged electricity infrastructure in southern Ukraine that provides Crimea with power supplies. Ukraine is engaged in several interlocking disputes with Russia, including an upcoming deadline for Kiev to repay debts to Moscow, claims of ceasefire violations and disagreements over the implementation of a trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union. However, the restoration of power to Crimea was delayed primarily because cutting off Crimea’s electricity supplies is one of the few ways the Kiev government could impose a cost on Russia and draw American attention to Ukraine, as fears are growing in the region that the U.S. will accept a compromise with Russia on the Ukraine issue.
The Ukrainian government’s decision to delay repairs to electricity lines to Crimea just a few months ago would have likely prompted more significant retaliation from Moscow a year ago. However, both Moscow and Washington are now more focused on Syria. For Russia, Ukraine is ultimately of much greater strategic importance than the Middle East, but the Kremlin is hoping that, by aiding the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, it could ultimately win concessions from Washington on the status of Ukraine.
The U.S. wants to preserve a pro-Western government in Kiev, but at the same time Washington fears that the Kiev government’s recent moves could create a crisis. It is likely not a coincidence that some power supplies returned to Crimea just as Biden visited Kiev. Washington is pressuring Ukraine to avoid provocative moves that could undermine U.S. negotiations with the Kremlin in the near term.