The United States and the U.N. are calling to demilitarize the area surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southeastern Ukraine. The plant is Europe’s largest and is currently held by Russian forces who are reportedly operating it via its Ukrainian personnel whom they’re holding at gunpoint. Jack Detsch reports in Foreign Policy:
In a statement, a State Department spokesperson called the fighting around Zaporizhzhia “dangerous and irresponsible” after the plant was shelled earlier today for the second time in recent days, which led to rounds of finger-pointing from both sides. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian troops of using the plant as a nuclear shield after deploying rocket launchers to the facility and turning it into an impromptu military base.
“We continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine, and support Ukrainian calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear power plant,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement on condition of anonymity based on ground rules set by the State Department.
This week, Russian officials said they would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to see the facility, after the U.N. nuclear watchdog said the situation at the plant was “completely out of control” and in need of inspection and urgent repairs. António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said in a statement that the Zaporizhzhia facility “must not be used as part of any military operation” and that an urgent agreement would be needed to ensure a safe demilitarized perimeter around the area.
Russian openness to inspections at the besieged power plant also coincided with ominous warnings from top Kremlin officials. On his Telegram channel on Friday, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote that accusations saying Russia was shelling the plant were “100% nonsense,” adding a veiled threat toward the West. “Let’s not forget that the European Union also has nuclear power plants,” he wrote. “And accidents can happen there, too.”
But despite American calls for Russia to fall back from the nuclear plant—which generates about one-fifth of Ukraine’s electricity—some Ukrainian officials believe that the Kremlin is eyeing critical infrastructure in Ukraine in an effort to exact maximum leverage at the bargaining table. Russia’s military also briefly occupied the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, before giving up on efforts to quickly seize Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.
“Russians claim Energoatom nuclear power plant is property of [Russian state-owned nuclear company] Rosatom now because they just grabbed it,” said Tymofiy Mylovanov, an advisor to the Zelensky administration, referring to the Ukrainian state-owned company that manages all four of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. “They are thinking about it, keeping it as a foot in the door for the next attack down the road.”
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