Russia arrests three officials over heating outages south of Moscow

KLIMOVSK, Russia (Reuters) -Russian investigators said on Tuesday they had arrested three people over heating outages south of Moscow that have sent regional officials scrambling to restore services and drawn scrutiny from the Kremlin.

Authorities blamed the breakdown on failures at a boiler plant owned by a private ammunition factory. The heads of the heating plant and the factory were arrested on suspicion of providing unsafe services, investigators said in a statement.

The deputy head of the local administration was also detained on suspicion of certifying the heating plant as adequate for winter despite allegedly knowing about defects that needed to be fixed.

The situation is embarrassing for authorities at a time when President Vladimir Putin is embarking on a campaign to be re-elected in March and voters are looking for assurances that the state can maintain decent living standards and public services despite the costs of the war in Ukraine.

Putin’s victory is not in doubt, but supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny say the campaign offers a chance for them to connect with voters and highlight problems in the country that they blame on his 24-year rule.

The Kremlin said Putin had discussed the situation late on Monday with Moscow regional governor Andrei Vorobyov and other officials, and “titanic” efforts were being made to resolve the situation.

Residents gathered in a local sports centre on Tuesday to escape their freezing homes. Larisa, a financial manager, said the temperature in her apartment was about 4 Celsius (39 Fahrenheit).

“There has been no heating for six days already. Tomorrow will be a week,” she said, adding that the electricity supply was too erratic to turn on a TV or a fridge.

Another woman, Valentina, said the authorities had promised that everything would be fixed in the course of the day “but we don’t know whether to believe it or not”.

Governor Vorobyov posted a stream of updates on social media and said the boiler plant in question was being taken over by local authorities and would be modernised and restaffed.

It was not immediately clear if the Klimovsk Specialised Cartridge Plant, the factory that owned the heating plant, was being nationalised.State arms corporation Rostec said it was “vital” to proceed with the nationalisation of the factory.

“An appeal to this effect to the president is already being prepared,” Rostec said in a statement. “This will allow for all tasks to be fulfilled for production and social needs, both for the plant and in overall terms, and for order to be restored.”

Rostec, it said, was prepared to take over the plant as it already had a stake in it and currently brought together about 90% of arms-producing plants in the country.

Moscow and the surrounding region have suffered an unusually harsh winter. The temperature in Klimovsk was -8 Celsius on Tuesday, mild by the standard of recent weeks.

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Mark TrevelyanEditing by Gareth Jones, Nick Zieminski and Ron Popeski)