Russia objects to UN nuclear watchdog taking control of Ukrainian power plant

Russia Atomic Energy Agency
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (Pavel Bednyakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) Pavel Bednyakov/AP

Russia objects to UN nuclear watchdog taking control of Ukrainian power plant

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Russia will not allow U.N. nuclear watchdogs to take control of an occupied Ukrainian nuclear power plant, a senior Russian nuclear agency official insisted.

“This is impossible in principle,” Rosenergoatom adviser Renat Karchaa said, per state media. “It is an organization in charge of nuclear safety, and not of operating nuclear power plants. There are no such provisions.”

That hard-line posture threatens Ukrainian hopes that the International Atomic Energy Agency will take custody of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which the invading forces have held since the first weeks of the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the facility to be an asset of the Russian government, but a series of successes in the Ukrainian counteroffensive this fall has shifted the tide of conflict back toward Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“The IAEA regards ZNPP as a Ukrainian facility,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi’s team said last week after meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “[Grossi] expressed concern about the decision-making situation showing open contradictions regarding the chain of command at the plant, which could have a negative impact on nuclear safety and security.”

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The prospect of a conflict around the power plant has alarmed Western officials and international observers for months. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russian forces of “using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back.” Ukrainian and Russian officials each have offered proposals to minimize the risk of a military clash at the facility, but neither side wants to agree to a pact that would concede the power plant to the control of the other.

“The main question is whether Kiev is ready to make a commitment to stop shelling and attempts to capture the NPP and if the IAEA is able to guarantee Kiev’s compliance with such hypothetical agreements,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Tuesday, using the Russian spelling for the Ukrainian capital. “Taking the NPP [nuclear power plant] out of Russia’s control or transferring control over it to a third party are out of the question. The NPP is located on Russian territory and Russia fully controls it.”

A more senior Russian diplomat adopted a more temperate tone in his update on conversations with Grossi.

“We continue to remain in contact with the IAEA Secretariat and cooperate with Rosatom and other relevant agencies,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Thursday, per state media. “I think that there is a positive dynamic in this issue. We are working with a certain perspective.”

The war in Ukraine has shifted into a pattern of persistent Russian strikes against Ukrainian energy infrastructure throughout the country as Ukrainian forces try to target Russian supply lines and try to position themselves to reclaim more Ukrainian territory in southern and eastern Ukraine.

“The enemy does not stop striking and shelling settlements and positions of our troops along the contact line,” the Ukrainian military claimed in a regular operational update. “During the day, the enemy’s rocket attacks damaged the civil infrastructure of the settlement of Stepne, Zaporizhzhia oblast. The threat of missile strikes on the objects of the energy system and critical infrastructure throughout the territory of Ukraine remains in the future.”

The liberation of Kherson last month has heightened the strategic significance of Zaporizhzhia, which sits in the middle of a line of Russian-occupied territories that connect the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to Russia’s proper territory. That line includes the Donbas districts that Russia also has held since 2014, which is perceived to be more heavily fortified than territory seized more recently — potentially making Zaporizhzhia a more attractive target for Ukrainian forces eager to isolate Crimea from the other Russian-held territories.

“In the Zaporozhzhia direction, the enemy is trying to improve the tactical position,” Ukrainian military officials added. “The enemy suffered losses, so on December 4 in the Zaporizhzhia region, as a result of fire, up to 20 units of enemy military equipment of various types were destroyed, and about 70 occupiers were injured.”

Zakharova’s statement puts a sharp point on the fraught political dynamics around the power plant. Putin signed documents in September that presume to incorporate the Zaporizhzhia region into the Russian state, even though Russian forces have failed even to take control of the entire region, which is sovereign Ukrainian territory under international law.

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“We are discussing potential parameters of a declaration on creating a zone to ensure the NPP’s nuclear and physical protection with the IAEA Secretariat, which, in turn, is trying to interact with Ukraine,” Zakharova also said. “It is premature to say that the sides are close to reaching agreement.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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