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Why is Government Blocking Construction of Protection at Power Substations?

Why is Government Blocking Construction of Protection at Power Substations? © Getty Images

A few days ago, Maksym Shkil, owner of Avtostrada, Ukraine's largest road repair company, publicly accused Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of blocking payments for the construction of protection of electrical substations from Russian strikes. According to him, the government has financed only 10% of the works for more than a year, leading to the works being stopped.

This means that our main substations are still not protected from missiles, and thus are a tempting target for Russia on the eve of the heating season, when energy will be scarce. In fact, unprotected substations are an invitation for Putin to arrange a total blackout with a collapse of the economy. Because the government has not created a distributed gas generation system either, and is only hallucinating about nuclear long-term construction projects and ship generators (more on them below).

“Nashi Hroshi checked the data on payments to the largest road companies in Ukraine from the beginning of 2023 to the end of June 2024 in the 007 analytical system. It turned out that Avtostrada Shkil received the maximum amount of UAH 15.71 billion. Avtomagistral-Pivden was not lagging far behind with UAH 12.43 billion. Rostdorstroi received much less — UAH 8.50 billion and Onur — UAH 4.92 billion. The regional leaders come next.

This is in line with the current distribution of contracts in ProZorro. During the invasion, the national hegemons received the largest contracts for road covers and bridges and road maintenance. Also, Avtostrada, Avtomagistral-Pivden and Rostdorstroy were building water pipelines in Dnipropetrovs’k region to deliver water after the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant was blown up. In April and May of this year, the government repaid them UAH 1–2 billion in debts for these facilities — these are the last upticks in the figure. Those payments were made after Ukraine received financial assistance from the United States and the water pipelines’ estimates were audited by the Americans.

However, the government has not actually allocated money for the protection of substations. There have been no payments for them since 2023.

On the one hand, this can be explained by the fact that even though the Americans have unblocked the aid, it is simply not enough to cover all the needs after several months of being on a “starvation diet.” But then it is unclear why the protection of substations was a lower priority than the repair of some schools in the rear.

On the other hand, in the spring, the head of the Presidential Office, Andrii Yermak, together with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, conducted an operation to remove Oleksandr Kubrakov from Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s inner circle. It was then that Kubrakov was rumored to have almost single-handedly decided to build missile shields to benefit companies close to him. At the same time, it was argued in government circles that these projects were very expensive but did not guarantee protection against destruction. Therefore, Shmyhal allegedly saw no point in paying for them.

Kubrakov’s team perceived these accusations as another element of the campaign to force him out of the Infrastructure Minister’s chair. However, two months have passed since Kubrakov’s resignation, and payments for covering the power facilities have not been received — by anyone. Not only Shkil, but also Oleksandr Boiko’s Avtomagistral-Pivden and Yurii Shumakher’s Rostdorstroy. So, obviously, the problem is more systemic. Because the State Agency for Reconstruction and the Ministry of Infrastructure developed the necessary documents under Kubrakov and Naiem, but the government has not even touched them since then.

The version that the appointment of a new team in the Ministry of Infrastructure and the State Agency for Reconstruction will “unfreeze” funding is not very realistic. Estimates for these facilities were made during Kubrakov’s tenure, squeezing the margin out of them as much as possible. Nashi Hroshi checked the prices of rebar, concrete and metal structures and found them to be at the level of public prices of large sellers and manufacturers. Under the close supervision of the allies, it is almost impossible to revise these estimates to increase the margin and the overall “interest in implementation.” And the time for construction is constantly running out.

Anti-missile covers costing several billion hryvnias each are needed for large substations, the instantaneous destruction of which could plunge Ukraine into a blackout. Unfortunately, after last year’s attempt by Putin to beat us up in the dark, we have not increased our air defense — that is, active defense. And the passive defense was stopped halfway through. At the same time, it is obvious that Putin will not stop trying to destroy our energy sector, and somewhere during the heating season the situation may become critical.

The energy collapse will definitely help Putin win the war: millions of people without electricity, communication and heat in the rear will, to put it mildly, distract the state from the affairs at the frontline. Moreover, Trump promises to cut off our aid immediately after winning the US presidential election.

Therefore, the protection of large substations is vital to survive the war. Shmyhal and Yermak should understand this, but for some reason they continue to refuse to build covers.

Do they know that they really won’t need the covers?

Let’s assume so, but under what circumstances can this happen?

The completion of two nuclear units at the Khmelnytskyi NPP is hardly encouraging: even the initiators of this scam, the Ministry of Energy and Minister Herman Halushchenko, say they will be building them for several years. That is, rescue is out of the question a priori this season.

Most likely, we should look for a boost of optimism in the project from the Presidential Office, which guarantees 1 GW of new generation by the end of the year. Do you remember that Volodymyr Zelenskyy personally promised to implement it?

Gigawatts are a lifesaver for Ukraine. If properly distributed, this generation will protect us against blackouts. And Russia will not be able to launch thousands of missiles at small generators, despite all its military might.

However, it turned out that Rostyslav Shurma’s energy sector dreamers had palmed off an absolutely unrealistic project of energy production by Turkish floating power plants on the president. They say we will bring two very large energy vessels with giant gas generators of 500 MW each (that is, each is like half a nuclear unit) from Turkey (for money, of course). We’ll put them somewhere near Odesa or on the Danube, and they’ll burn liquefied gas and produce electricity for Ukraine.

The first and foremost reason for the upcoming failure is that there are simply no appropriate networks in the south of Ukraine to connect this equipment and further transfer energy to the mainland. Just imagine trying to plug a Soviet-style plug into an American outlet — it won’t fit.

The other reasons are no less compelling, albeit cursory. Energy vessels run on gas, diesel or fuel oil, whatever you choose, everything is flammable, explosive and definitely should not be in the crosshairs of Russian missiles. Moreover, the “distributed nature” of their use is minimized by the fact that these vessels are huge objects of concentrated generation, and even a small hit is enough to simultaneously destroy expensive ships and knock out gigawatts of capacity from our power system.

Of course, it may be that the Presidential Office or our allies have some kind of agreement with our enemies on “red lines” in the energy sector. After all, the manufacturer of the energy ships is a Turkish company. But counting on nobility in this war is obviously a losing strategy.

Okay, let’s assume that the Russians really won’t shell the Turkish floating stations. What will it do for us if the Russians knock out all the unprotected Ukrainian substations? One gigawatt will not be enough.

The only way Putin can avoid attacking Ukraine’s unprotected substations is through a ceasefire.

There have long been rumors in Kyiv about different formats of negotiations. Both foreign ambassadors and Ukrainian politicians talk about them. What’s more, Zelenskyy and Yermak have already publicly stated that the next peace summit this year will involve Russia.

In fact, the only obstacle to reconciliation is the unwillingness of the Ukrainian people. According to a poll conducted by ZN.UA with the support of the Razumkov Center in June of this year, only 9.4% of respondents answered the question “Which of the conditions do you consider to be the minimum necessary for a peace agreement with Russia?” by chosing the option “I accept that the borders along the front line are fixed at the time of the agreement.” Instead, almost 26% chose the answer “Liberation of Ukraine from Russian troops along the demarcation line as of early 2022,” and 51.5% chose “Liberation of Ukraine from Russian troops within the 1991 borders.”

Less than 10% is too low for a president who is still trusted by more than 50% of Ukrainians.

Our energy problems during the heating season and the election of Trump as US president in November will undoubtedly affect these figures. Perhaps this is what the government is counting on by not investing a lot of money in protecting substations? Or is the reason really in the total faith in the completely inadequate project of “gigawatt preachers”? Everything is so tasty that you don’t know what to choose.

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