Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan begin to restore power after sweeping blackout

A store in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, during the blackout on January 25, 2022Vyacheslav Oseledko / AFP / Scanpix / LETA

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have begun to restore power following a major blackout that hit the three Central Asian countries on Tuesday, January 25. The outages were caused by accident that affected the countries’ interconnected power grid. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have blamed each other for triggering blackout. The three countries have started to restore power separately, though they plan to return to the integrated system later on. Authorities in Uzbekistan are also urging the population to ignore rumors circulating on social media that electricity won’t be restored for several days.

Power outages hit parts of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan on Tuesday, January 25. An accident occured in the countries’ interconnected power grid around 9:00 a.m. Moscow time (1:00 a.m. EST), affecting all major cities in the region, including Almaty, Bishkek, and Tashkent. The outages took out traffic lights, disrupted mobile communication networks, and shutdown pumps supplying heating and running water to residential buildings. Dozens of people were left stranded in elevators and on cable cars in the mountains. In Tashkent, the subway system ground to halt temporarily and the airport shutdown. Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, was hit with a complete blackout. The Bishkek and Almaty airports continued to operate, though not as normal. Hospitals and other vital facilities in all three countries also managed to continue work, thanks to backup generators. 

Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan pointed the finger at each other for the blackout. Uzbekistan’s Energy Ministry stated that an accident in Kazakhstan’s power grid caused sharp changes in voltage and frequency, triggering emergency shutdowns at Uzbekistan’s power plants. Kazakhstan, in turn, made the opposite claim, saying that an “emergency imbalance” originating in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan’s power grid led to a surge that cut off electricity to southern Kazakhstan. 

Electricity was mostly restored within several hours of the accident. All three countries have relaunched power supplies separately, though they plan to return to the common electricity system later on. Five hours after the blackout began, the Kyrgyzstani authorities announced that electricity had been restored throughout the country, and promised that heating would be back up and running by nightfall. The Kazakhstani authorities reported that power had been restored to Almaty, and that work to restore electricity to the country’s remote southern regions was ongoing. In Uzbekistan, the authorities also reported that power was gradually being restored, urging the population not to believe rumors circulating on social media that there would be no electricity for two or three days. 

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have been hooked up to a unified “electricity ring” since the late Soviet period — this project began in the 1980s and was fully completed in 1997. This “electricity ring” is meant to compensate for power shortages that occur in any of the three countries. Initially, it connected all five former Soviet republics in Central Asia, however Turkmenistan exited the system in 2003, followed by Tajikistan six years later.

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