Ukraine accuses Russia of using nuclear plant to blackmail the West

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KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine’s President

Volodymyr Zelensky

accused Russia of using Europe’s largest nuclear power plant to blackmail Kyiv and its allies, urging tougher sanctions against Moscow after recent shelling in the vicinity of the facility prompted warnings of a nuclear accident.

Fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has intensified in recent days as both Russia and Ukraine struggle to make meaningful gains on the battlefield almost six months into a war that has worn both sides down.

Russian troops who have been dug in around the plant since the early days of the invasion have repeatedly lobbed artillery at Ukrainian positions across the Dnipro River near the city of Nikopol, which came under fire again overnight. Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, said 20 Russian artillery rounds had landed in Nikopol, damaging housing and infrastructure. The nearby towns of Maharnets and Zelenodolsk were also struck, he said.

Officials in Kyiv say the Russian attacks seek to goad Ukrainian forces into responding. They also accuse Russian forces of shelling the territory around the plant themselves, creating the specter of a nuclear catastrophe to force Kyiv to the negotiating table.

“They arrange constant provocations with shelling of the territory of the nuclear power plant and try to bring their additional forces in this direction to blackmail our state and the entire free world,” Mr. Zelensky said in an address late Saturday evening.

“Every Russian soldier who either shoots at the plant, or shoots under the cover of the plant, must understand that he is becoming a special target for our intelligence, for our secret service, for our army,” he said.

A Ukrainian serviceman fires a howitzer in the southern region of Mykolaiv.



Photo:

STRINGER/REUTERS

 

Workers in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv remove pipes damaged by a Russian strike.



Photo:

str/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Russian officials say that Ukrainian forces are shelling the plant, and Moscow has repeatedly warned of the danger of a major nuclear incident.

The United Nations’ nuclear regulator, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has lobbied for months to negotiate safe passage to inspect the plant, which is still being operated by Ukrainian workers.

Ukraine’s energy regulator Energoatom said periodic shelling near the plant since last week had caused a serious risk to its safe operation. One of three operating power units has been disconnected as a result, it said, and emergency protection of one of the power units was also activated.

Plant staff and Ukrainian officials and diplomats following the case said Russia appears to be trying to effectively steal the nuclear plant by disconnecting it from Ukraine’s national electrical grid and eventually connecting it to Russia’s—and abducting and assaulting technicians who oppose that project.

The changeover would be costly, time-consuming and of limited benefit to Russia, which already has a considerable supply of nuclear power. But it would be a potent symbolic victory for President

Vladimir Putin

nearly six months into his grinding invasion.

On Sunday, Russia’s invading force made renewed small gains in the northeast, capturing the settlement of Udy in the Kharkiv region, the defense ministry in Moscow said in a briefing.

Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk, where they are defending their remaining territory in the eastern region.



Photo:

anatolii stepanov/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

In eastern Ukraine, where Moscow threw its weight after pulling back from Kyiv in March, Russian forces have made slow progress since seizing the cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk more than a month ago. The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian troops had attempted to break through their defenses near the village of Dolyna on Sunday.

Kyiv, meanwhile, has been laying the ground for a counteroffensive in the south, striking bridges and other supply routes around the Kherson region in an effort to cut off Russian forces there. While Ukrainian forces have been chipping away at Russian positions around the city of Kherson, military analysts say Ukraine lacks the manpower for a full-scale assault.

Despite the hostilities, ships loaded with Ukrainian grain continue to sail from the country’s ports under a deal to lift a Russian blockade that threatened global food security. Ukrainian authorities and the U.N. said the Brave Commander, a ship carrying 23,000 tons of wheat for the World Food Program in Ethiopia, was ready to depart the port of Pivdennyi.

A total of 16 vessels loaded with almost half a million tons of agricultural products have departed the country’s ports since the U.N.-brokered deal was implemented last month, Mr. Zelensky said.

Write to Isabel Coles at [email protected] and Bojan Pancevski at [email protected]

 

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