It's the sort of thing many a beleaguered bill-payer has probably dreamed of doing: getting a gun and making the electric company turn the power back on.

Russia's Northern Fleet sent heavily armed sailors to do just that after the power was cut to one of its nuclear submarine bases, saying it had to act to prevent an "emergency" situation.This week's "power struggle" was but the latest in a series of similar incidents nationwide, reflecting just how cash-strapped Rus-sia's military has become since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The central command of the Strategic Rocket Forces, which control Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles, and a base used for space launches both had their electricity cut off in the past year because of overdue bills.

State electric companies even cut power to a flight control center in southern Russia last year while dozens of planes, including President Yeltsin's, were in the air.

The military newspaper, Kras-naya Zvezda (Red Star), ran an outraged story on its front page Friday saying Russia's strategic forces are so desperate for cash that they hire out soldiers for menial work like digging potatoes.

As a result, it said, some nuclear missile sites are so short-handed that crews often work double shifts, spending 18 days at a stretch at their underground posts instead of nine.

News reports said power was cut off to the Northern Fleet several times over the past few days, leaving several aging subs without outside power. The on-board cooling system on one failed, and its reactors were in danger of overheating, according to the reports.

The navy later hotly denied there was any danger of a nuclear accident.

But fleet spokesman Vladimir Kondriyanenko said Friday that "switching off the power for even a few minutes can cause an emergency." He refused to elaborate.

The silver-haired fleet commander, Adm. Oleg Yerofeyev, told Russian television that he considered the local power authority's action to be "an act of sabotage."

The company, Kolenergo, said it turned off the juice because the fleet owes it $4.5 million.

Heavily armed sailors in bulletproof vests showed up Thursday at two substations and forced the duty engineers to switch on the juice - at gunpoint.

The fleet also took over all the electrical substations serving its nuclear installations on the Kola Peninsula, which lies above the Arctic Circle on Russia's borders with Finland and Norway.

Kondriyanenko refused to comment on the substation takeovers, calling them "a military secret."

"It's true the fleet owes the company a lot of money," he admitted in a telephone interview. "But almost every state-run organization, including the military, has some debts."

A spokesman for Kolenergo, Viktor Krivtsov, said the power company filed a written protest with the fleet command.

"The fact that military people can come to our premises and dictate their terms at gunpoint causes great indignation and anxiety," he said. "They'll still have to pay for electricity. Their bills are enormous. We have to settle this one way or another."