In the latest sign of the Russian military's financial straits, units in charge of Russia's nuclear forces in the Far East reported being left without power this week because the utility bill has not been paid.

The cutoff temporarily incapacitated military radar in the Khabarovsk region on the border with China, local air defense chief Anatoly Nogovitsyn said, according to the Associated Press. Water pumps quit working and dozens of garrisons went dark, according to unit commanders.

The Russian news agency Interfax said electricity was cut off to units responsible for the strategic rockets that make up Russia's "nuclear shield" and for controlling Russia's air border.

The central command of the Strategic Missile Forces later said in a statement that the cutoff had only affected support facilities, not combat units.

However, the military's press service acknowledged the situation was worrisome.

It was at least the third time in a year that sensitive military installations have found themselves without power because of unpaid bills.

A local authority switched off electricity to a northern naval base where nuclear-powered submarines were located last fall, and a missile testing site was also temporarily left in the dark.

To military experts, the cutoffs are only one of the more obvious signs of how Russia's control over its nuclear arsenal continues to weaken.

Its early warning system for detecting ballistic missile launches has deteriorated to the point that space satellites can no longer cover U.S. missile sites around the clock.

The conventional forces are in no better shape: Soldiers live in deplorable conditions and sometimes solicit passersby on city streets for money to buy bread.

The Russian government, determined to show its military is still a force to be reckoned with, has staged large-scale military exercises in recent months. The Kosovo war provided the military its best argument in some time for more funding, and Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin has promised to increase defense spending.

But in the Far East this week, the Khabarovskenergo power company got tired of waiting. Company officials said the military owed more than $16 million and had ignored all pleas and warnings. Military officials contend the debt was less than $6 million, and say complaints should be directed to the Finance Ministry in Moscow, which has failed to send the funds.

After a meeting with the regional governor, power was restored--but only for the next three weeks, according to the newspaper Izvestia.