Ukraine: Russia places rocket launchers in nuclear power plant

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian forces have planted multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine’s shutdown Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials said on Thursday, raising concerns that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant could be used as a base to fire into the territory Ukrainian and increasing radiation risks.

Ukrainian nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant had placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors. He said the offensive systems are located in new “protective structures” that the Russians have secretly built, “violating all nuclear and radiological security conditions”.

The claim could not be independently verified.

The Soviet-built multiple rocket launchers are capable of firing rockets at ranges of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), and Energoatom said they could allow Russian forces to strike the opposite bank of the Dnieper, where each party blames the other for almost daily shelling in the towns of Nikopol and Marhanets. The plant is in an area of ​​southern Ukraine that the Kremlin has illegally annexed.

The Zaporizhzhia station has been under Russian control since the first days of the war. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of bombing the plant and risking a radiation release. Although the risk of a nuclear meltdown is greatly reduced as all six reactors have been shut down, experts said a dangerous release of radiation is still possible. The reactors were shut down because the fighting kept cutting off the external power supplies needed to operate the reactor cooling systems and other safety systems.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, posted inspectors at the plant and tried to persuade both sides in the conflict to agree to a demilitarized zone around it. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported Grad installation. Ukraine has already accused the Russians of having heavy weapons at the factory. The Kremlin said it must retain control of the plant to defend it against suspected Ukrainian attacks.

With renewed attention to the dangers in Zaporizhzhia during the war, which has dragged on for nine months, the Kremlin is sending new signals on how to end it. He said on Thursday it was up to Ukraine’s president to end the military conflict, suggesting terms Kiev has repeatedly rejected, while Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to continue fighting despite Western criticism.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “(Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky knows when it can end. It can end tomorrow if he wants to.”

The war in Ukraine has soured relations between Russia and much of the rest of the world, but limited cooperation continues in some areas, such as prisoner exchanges. On Thursday, in a dramatic exchange that had been in the making for months, Russia freed American basketball star Brittney Griner while the United States freed a jailed Russian arms dealer.

The Kremlin has long said that Ukraine must agree to Russian terms to end the fighting. He demanded that kyiv recognize Crimea – a Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 – as part of Russia and also accept Moscow’s other land gains in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected these conditions, saying the war will end when the occupied territories are retaken or Russian forces leave them.

Acknowledging that it is taking longer than expected to achieve his goals in the conflict, Putin said Wednesday that fighting in Ukraine “could be a long process” while describing Moscow’s land gains as “a significant outcome for Russia. “.

In a conference call with reporters, Peskov said Moscow was not seeking to seize new lands, but would try to regain control of areas of Ukraine from which it had withdrawn just weeks after incorporating them to Russia in hastily organized referendums – which Ukraine and the West reject. as illegal pretenses. After earlier withdrawals from the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions, Russian troops last month left the city of Kherson and parts of the Kherson region, one of the four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions.

Putin vowed on Thursday to achieve the stated goals in Ukraine regardless of Western reaction.

“All we have to do is move and there is a lot of noise, chatter and uproar throughout the universe. This will not prevent us from performing combat tasks,” Putin said.

He described the Russian strikes against Ukraine’s energy facilities and other key infrastructure as a legitimate response to the Oct. 8 truck attack on a key bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland, and other attacks that the Kremlin has claimed by Ukraine. Putin also cited Ukraine’s decision to cut off water supplies to Russian-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine.

“There is a lot of noise now about our strikes on energy infrastructure,” Putin said during a meeting with soldiers he has decorated with the highest medals in the country. “Yes, we do. But who started? Who hit the Crimean Bridge? Who blew up the power lines at the Kursk nuclear power plant? Who does not supply water in Donetsk?

While refraining from publicly claiming credit for the attacks, Ukrainian officials praise their results and allude to Ukrainian involvement.

Heavy fighting continues, mainly in areas annexed by Russia. Zelenskyy’s office said 11 civilians were killed in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The Donetsk region has been the epicenter of recent fighting. Russian artillery struck the town of Yampil during the distribution of humanitarian aid to civilians, Ukrainian officials said. Buildings were damaged in Kurakhove, 35 kilometers (22 miles) west of the regional capital, Donetsk, officials said.

More than ten towns and villages in the region were bombed, including the town of Bakhmut, which remained in Ukrainian hands despite Moscow’s aim to seize the entire annexed Donbass region on the Russian border.

In other developments:

— The International Committee of the Red Cross said that for the first time its representatives visited Ukrainian prisoners of war held by Russian forces. Visits to Russian prisoners of war also took place. The Red Cross checked the condition of the prisoners, gave them books, personal hygiene products, blankets and warm clothes, and contacted their relatives.

— A Russian on-board air defense system knocked down a drone in the Sevastopol region, the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the regional governor said. Several attacks have been launched since the beginning of the war against Sevastopol, which is on the Crimean peninsula, and the Black Sea Fleet.

– Russian officials said Ukrainian forces shelled Belgorod province, which borders Ukraine. According to Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, the shelling damaged power lines in Yakovlevo, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Ukrainian border. Although Gladkov did not report any casualties or injuries, a local Telegram news channel reported a fire at a military base, with several Russian servicemen killed or injured. Ukrainian officials maintained their policy of not commenting on cross-border attacks.


Yuras Karmanau contributed from Tallinn, Estonia.

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