Geopolitics

Which Side Are You On? Ukraine Military Dilemma In Crimea

Armed guards outside a Ukrainian military compound in Simferopol, Crimea, on March 4
Armed guards outside a Ukrainian military compound in Simferopol, Crimea, on March 4
Ilya Barabanov

SEVASTOPOL — Tension is running high around the Ukrainian navy base in Sevastopol and around Belbek airport, with several spontaneous demonstrations breaking out. Meanwhile on the outskirts of the nearby city of Simferopol, says Vladislav Celeznevon, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman, military trucks without license plates are blocking in the perimeter of concrete military bases.

Crimean self-defense activists have blocked the entrance and exits to Sevastopol's navy base, where the new head of the Ukrainian Navy, Rear-Admiral Sergei Gaiduk is currently located. Activists from the “Russian Block” party, as well as armed individuals without any identifying uniforms, are also a notable presence.

“We are waiting until the military decides whose side it is on,” explained one of the members of “Russian Block."

Overnight, these activists gathered a large number of wooden pallets from nearby stores and piled them up at the gate, preventing the soldiers from leaving the area. On Tuesday morning there were rumors that the head of the Black Sea fleet had given his Ukrainian colleagues an ultimatum: Either they would hand in their weapons or those who were unwilling to obey the new Crimean government would be attacked. The Russian Ministry of Defense has since denied any such ultimatum, and in the end there was no attack.

But weapons were very nearly fired at the N4515 base that serves the nearby Belbek airport. The base has already been blockaded by activists for several days, including a contingent of the “Berkut” special forces that were accused of firing on the protesters in Kiev and had returned to Crimea after President Viktor Yanukovich was deposed. The soldiers agreed to seal off their weapons and ammunition and not to leave the base armed, but they tried to continue providing security to the airport.

Excellent relations

“For the morning parade we had a group of volunteers. They were unarmed, and walked to the airport with flags and songs. They were met by several people who fired four shots in the air. But after negotiations, they let a couple soldiers through," recounted one of the soldiers from the base. "You have to serve the airport in any case, to clear flights for landing and takeoff.”

At first the Black Sea marines took control of the airport, and then it was taken over by special forces.

“A lot of the Ukrainian soldiers have Russian wives who work on the Black Sea fleet bases. I was born in Kursk (a small Russian city near the border with Ukraine), but I ended up settling in Ukraine," says one military personnel. "We have always had excellent relations, but we can’t just surrender, we are the Sevastopol Tactical Aviation Brigade. Do you understand? The Sevastopol Brigade.”

At some point the base leadership decided to open the territory to several journalists. As rain fell, officers talked about the latest rumors as they huddled under the wing of a war plane on the base that was set up as a monument to fallen soldiers. As the officers were called in for lunch, Colonel Viktor Kukharenko, the commanding officer at the base, told me that as far as he knew, there were no military bases on Crimea that had sworn allegiance to the new government of Crimea, under Sergei Aksenov.

Aksenov also had something to say. He announced that the referendum on the peninsula's future would not be on March 30, but at some point unspecified date in the future. He said that the Crimean government is in complete control of the situation on the ground. He promised to raise the salaries for soldiers who defected to the Crimean side up to levels of the Russian army.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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