Strikes at Ukraine nuclear plant prompt UN chief to call for demilitarised zone

  • Russian ambassador warns of ‘nuclear disaster’
  • Zelensky demanded that Russia return the plant to Ukraine
  • Satellite images show damage to a Russian air base in Crimea

KYIV/NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Russia and Ukraine accused each other of firing on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant as U.N. chiefs proposed a demilitarized zone at the site amid fears of a disaster.

Ukraine’s Energoatom agency said the Zaporizhia complex, which stores radioactive materials, was attacked five times on Thursday. Russian-appointed officials said Ukraine fired twice at the plant, disrupting the shift changeover, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday to discuss the situation. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on both sides to stop all fighting near the plant.

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“The facility should not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, an urgent agreement at the technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization is needed to ensure the security of the area,” Guterres said in a statement.

Russia seized Zaporizhia in March after invading Ukraine on February 24. The plant, which is on the front line of the battle, is occupied by the Russian military and operated by Ukrainian workers.

At a Security Council meeting, the United States supported calls for a demilitarized zone and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit the site. Read on

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said the world was “being pushed to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, comparable to Chernobyl.” He said IAEA officials could visit the site as early as this month.

Reuters could not independently verify reports from both sides about conditions at the plant.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded that Russia return the plant to Ukraine.

“Only the complete withdrawal of the Russians … and the restoration of full Ukrainian control over the situation surrounding the station can guarantee the resumption of nuclear security for all of Europe,” he said in a video address.

France echoed Zelensky’s demand, saying Russia’s occupation of the site posed a threat to the world.

“The presence and actions of the Russian armed forces near the plant significantly increase the risk of an accident with potentially catastrophic consequences,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kyiv and Moscow have previously blamed each other for attacks on the site. Ukraine has also accused Russia of firing rockets at Ukrainian cities around a nuclear power plant it has seized because it is dangerous to fire back at Ukraine.

Russian base in Crimea

Separately, satellite images released Thursday showed destruction at an air base in Russian-annexed Crimea. Ukraine may have a new long-range strike capability capable of changing the course of the war, Western military experts said.

Images from independent satellite firm Planet Labs showed three nearly identical craters where buildings at Russia’s Saki Air Base were apparently hit. The base, on Crimea’s southwest coast, was heavily damaged in the fire, with at least eight destroyed warplanes clearly visible.

Russia has denied that the plane was damaged and said the explosion at the base on Tuesday was accidental. Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Referring to the damage, Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, told Reuters in a message: “Officially, we do not confirm or deny anything … considering that there were several explosions at the same time.”

Zelensky called on officials to stop talking to journalists about Kiev’s military tactics against Russia, saying such commentary was “frankly irresponsible”. The New York Times and Washington Post cited unnamed officials as saying the Ukrainian military was responsible for the Crimean attack. Read on

Russia, which seized and annexed Crimea in 2014, uses the peninsula as a base for its Black Sea fleet and a key supply route for its invasion force occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in the coming weeks.

counter-offensive

The Institute for the Study of War said Ukrainian officials were framing the Crimea strike as the start of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south, suggesting intense fighting in August and September could determine the outcome of the war’s next phase.

Exactly how the attack was carried out remains a mystery but the nearly identical impact craters and simultaneous explosions appear to have been hit by a volley of weapons that were able to evade the Russian defenses.

The base is beyond the range of advanced rockets the West has admitted to sending to Ukraine so far, albeit within the range of more powerful versions sought by Kiev. Ukraine also has anti-ship missiles that could theoretically be used to hit targets on land.

Meanwhile, the US State Department said Russian officials had trained in Iran in recent weeks as part of an agreement on the transfer of drones between the two countries. Read on

US officials said last month that Iran was preparing to supply Russia with several hundred drones, some of which carry weapons, raising concerns that Tehran is now supporting Russia in its war in Ukraine. Read on

Russia says it is planning a “special military operation” to protect Russian-speakers and separatists in the south and east. Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow aims to strengthen its grip on as much territory as possible.

Since the war began, thousands have died, millions have fled and cities have been destroyed.

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Report by Reuters Bureau; Written by Cynthia Osterman; Edited by Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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