DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — While Ukrainian diplomats take part in negotiations at the United Nations COP28 climate talks, Russia's war on the country lurks just in the background — even as the United Arab Emirates has seen its business ties to Moscow surge despite Western sanctions.
As Ukraine announced a 450 million euro ($489 million) expansion Monday of a wind farm in its Mykolaiv region, officials highlighted how its turbines would be spread far enough apart to survive any Russian missile attack. They decried continued attacks by Moscow on its energy infrastructure as snow storms grip the country. And an American diplomat forcefully denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin at an event that's seen demonstrators stopped from naming Israel in their protests over its pounding airstrikes and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip against Hamas.
“The war in Ukraine — Putin’s invasion — represents a fundamental challenge to the international system that the United States and our allies and partners are trying to build," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffrey R. Pyatt told The Associated Press. "Putin is dragging us back to the law of the jungle. He has to be defeated.”
The Russian embassies in Abu Dhabi, the UAE's capital, and Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The war looms large over Ukraine's pavilion at the COP28 summit. A brick roof from the war-torn Kherson region serves as a physical reminder of the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam and the rush of water from the country's largest reservoir that washed away villages and cities in June. The dam’s destruction led to deadly flooding, endangered crops in the world’s breadbasket, threatened drinking water supplies for thousands and unleashed an environmental catastrophe.
Ukraine puts blame for the collapse on Russia, which had the means, motive and opportunity to bring down the dam. Russia has blamed Ukraine for the dam's collapse through a variety of allegations, though even Putin acknowledged it provided his retreating troops cover and disrupted Ukraine's counteroffensive this summer.
Monday's event at the pavilion saw private Ukrainian energy producer DTEK sign a memorandum of understanding with the Danish firm Vestas to expand its wind farm project in Mykolaiv. Its first phase was built for 200 million euros ($217 million) amid the war, with crews spending about a third of their time in bomb shelters during the project, said Maxim Timchenko, the CEO of DTEK.
“They work in (body) armor and they see missiles flying above their heads,” Timchenko said. "That’s why we are proud of this achievement. And moreover, it gives us more confidence to build the second phase and complete this project. We are ready to fight.”
The new 450 million euros in funding comes from banks with government guarantees and war-risk insurance, Timchenko said, praising Denmark for its role in securing the project's financing.
The energy grid expansion comes as Russia still occupies Europe's largest atomic power plant in Ukraine, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and fighting still endangers others. At risk as the cold sets in this winter is power, too.
Russia last winter destroyed about half of Ukraine's electricity infrastructure by firing over 1,200 missiles and drones at power plants, including generating plants and power lines. People were forced to endure hours without electricity and water during the coldest months in what Ukrainian officials described as “energy terror.”
Ukraine says it has repaired that damage during the summer, but the largest-ever wave of Russian attacks using Iranian-supplied drones last month has renewed fears that its grid again will come under attack. Front-line cities in both eastern and southern Ukraine remain particularly vulnerable, though air defense around the capital, Kyiv, and other areas have improved.
“Putin has made energy one of his weapons," said Pyatt, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. “He’s done that with his drone and missile attacks on civilian energy infrastructure. He’s done that by turning off the gas pipelines in order to try to weaken Europe’s resolve to support the Ukrainians.
"So we have recognized from day one that for Vladimir Putin, energy is just about as much a part of his war strategy as are his tanks and his missiles.”
Associated Press writer Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.
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