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Blasts cut Georgia gas, electricity supplies

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A pipeline ruptured by a blast Sunday in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia.

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Georgia's president Sunday questioned the timing of explosions in Russia that cut off electricity and natural gas service to his country in the middle of one of the coldest winters on record in the Caucasus nation.

Russia is investigating the explosions as a criminal act, according to Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry.

But Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili stopped short of accusing Russia of orchestrating the blasts.

"They hit us at exactly the right moment," he told CNN. "I'm not accusing anybody. I'm just asking questions. It looks dubious at the very least."

Saakashvili said Russian officials have tendered veiled threats in the past, and given the natural gas crisis created in Ukraine earlier this month when Russia temporarily shut off the flow, the president said it "just looks fishy."

"The people who selected the time, it was very precise timing," Saakashvili said. "We've been trying to reach Russian officials all day with very little success."

Russia had no immediate comment on Saakashvili's remarks.

"We are out of gas," Saakashvili said. "We don't even have one day supply. Gas is no longer being supplied to our households."

Saakashvili said Georgia was negotiating for alternative sources of natural gas with neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey. Electricity is less of an immediate concern, since only a quarter of Georgia's electricity comes from Russia.

The Georgian government is providing other alternatives, such as propane, to schools and hospitals for heating.

"We'll find a way," Saakashvili said. "We've seen worse times in the past. Russia has never been a terribly reliable neighbor anyway."

Gas service to Armenia was also severed by the gas pipeline blast, said Beltsov. Two blasts struck the pipeline in the North Ossetia region near the Georgian border. The first, he said, was at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and the second 20 minutes later.

Interfax reported two explosive devices used to blow up the gas pipeline were equivalent to 700 to 800 grams of dynamite, or about 1.5 to 1.7 pounds. Interfax reported a criminal investigation had been launched.

The Emergency Situations Ministry estimated the damage will take two to three days to repair, Beltsov said. A temporary road to access the site was being built.

Saakashvili said a more realistic estimate was "several weeks."

About nine hours after the gas pipeline blasts, a pylon carrying a high-voltage electric power line supplying electricity to Georgia was blown up outside Karachayevsk in Russia's internal republic of Karacheyevo-Cherkessia, Interfax reported. Repair work has begun, the news agency said.

Saakashvili said Georgia had been working toward becoming less dependent on Russia for natural gas and had expected to complete negotiations in that regard by fall.

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