Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday dismissed a proposal by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres to demilitarise the area around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.
During a press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechaev said the proposals were “unacceptable” and accused Ukraine and the West of planning a “provocation” there on Friday.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was captured by Russia in March, shortly after it ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in what it calls a “special military operation”. The facility, the largest nuclear complex in Europe, remains near the frontlines and has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, sparking fears of a nuclear disaster.
Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the plant.
Russia says Ukrainian forces are recklessly firing at the plant, but Ukraine says Russia is deliberately using the reactor complex as a base to launch attacks against its population.
Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Moscow was taking measures to ensure safety at the complex and denied it had deployed heavy weapons in and around the plant.
However, the ministry said a shutdown of the plant might be attempted if shelling continued.
Yevgeny Balitsky, head of the Russian-installed administration in the Zaporizhzhia region, said earlier there was a risk that shelling could damage the cooling system of the reactor complex and was quoted as saying the plant was operating with only one unit.
Ukrainian state nuclear energy company Energoatom said shutting down the plant would increase the risk of “a radiation disaster at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe”. Disconnecting the complex’s generators from Ukraine‘s power system would prevent them from being used to keep nuclear fuel cool, in the event of a power outage at the plant, it said on the Telegram messaging app.
The Russian defense ministry accused Ukraine and what it called its “U.S. handlers” of trying to stage a “minor accident” at the plant in southern Ukraine to blame Russia.
It said the “provocation” was timed to coincide with a visit to Ukraine by U.N. chief Guterres, who arrived in Lviv on Wednesday and was due to visit the Black Sea port of Odesa on Friday, and that it may involve a radiation leak.
Ukrainian forces said on Thursday they had beaten back a Russian attack in the southern region of Kherson, while the death toll from the Russian shelling of Kharkiv in Ukraine‘s northeast climbed as the nearly six-month war grinds on without let-up.
The war has forced millions to flee, killed thousands, and deepened a geopolitical rift between the West and Russia, which says its operation aims to demilitarize its neighbor and protect Russian-speaking communities.
“Russian forces have achieved only minimal advances, and in some cases, we have advanced, since last month,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video.
“What we are seeing is a ‘strategic deadlock’.”
Russian bombardment of a residential area of Kharkiv, Ukraine‘s second-biggest city, on Wednesday evening killed seven people and wounded 16, the Ukrainian Emergencies Service said.
“This is a devious and cynical strike on civilians with no justification,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app.
One person was killed and 18 were wounded on Thursday in pre-dawn shelling of another residential area of Kharkiv, Oleh Synehubov, the regional governor said.
The south district of the Operational Command of the Ukrainian armed forces said Ukrainian forces killed 29 “occupiers” near the town of Bilohirka, northeast of Kherson, as well as destroyed artillery, armored vehicles, and a military supply depot.
Trilateral meetings aimed at increasing Turkey, Ukraine relations
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ukraine on Thursday, with grain exports and concerns about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to top the agenda.
The trilateral meeting marks Erdogan’s first in-person discussion with Zelenskiy since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, although the Turkish leader has met Russian President Vladimir Putin twice in recent months.
The three leaders will hold a joint news conference after their meetings in Lviv, an important transit point for Ukrainian refugees heading west to Europe since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Guterres, who arrived in Lviv on Wednesday afternoon, plans on Friday to visit the Black Sea port of Odesa, where grain exports have resumed under a U.N.-brokered deal aimed at easing a worsening global food crisis.
Erdogan’s office said he would address ways to increase exports of grain and steps that could be taken towards ending the war between Ukraine and Russia through diplomatic means.
Erdogan will also discuss “all aspects” of bilateral relations between Ankara and Kyiv during his meeting with Zelenskiy, his office said.
Turkey has criticized the Russian invasion and provided Ukraine with arms, including drones, while refusing to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia – a stance it says has helped its mediation efforts reap results.
Another key topic will be the worrying situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters (Edited for FISM News by Michael Cardinal)