Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that an independent inspection team could travel through Ukraine to the Moscow-occupied Zaporozhye nuclear power plant.
Putin “reconsidered” a request by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to travel to the site through Russia, according to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office on Friday, after the Russian leader himself warned that fighting there could bring “disaster”.
It specified that Putin had dropped his request for an IAEA team to travel to the site via Russia, saying it could be reached via Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, urged Moscow’s forces occupying the Zaporozhye plant in southern Ukraine not to disconnect the facility from the power grid and potentially cut off supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
Fighting around the Zaporozhye factory – with both sides accusing the other of the attack – has sparked fears. A disaster worse than Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said in a statement earlier that Putin and Macron agreed that officials from the UN nuclear watchdog should conduct inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground.”
The Kremlin added that Putin also “stressed the risk of a massive catastrophe caused by the systematic shelling of the territory of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant by the Ukrainian military”.
The warning of a nuclear disaster comes just after Turkish leaders Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres met in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lviv Warning, alarm bells for intense fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the United Nations to secure the site.
“We are worried. We don’t want Chernobyl to happen again,” the Turkish leader said, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster, while Guterres warned that any damage to the plant would be akin to “suicide” .
“It is clear that the electricity from Zaporozhye is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected. Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,” the UN secretary general said on Friday during a visit to the southern port of Odessa.
His remarks came after Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom accused the Russian army of planning to “shut down the reactors in Zaporozhye that can power 4 million homes”.
Moscow said on Thursday that Kyiv was preparing for a “provocation” at the site, where Russia was “accused of creating a man-made disaster” at the factory.
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning a provocation and said the Russian occupying forces had on Friday ordered most of its staff to stay at home and removed them from Russia’s own national nuclear agency.
The UN secretary-general is visiting Odessa as part of a call for Ukrainian food to be delivered to impoverished countries mired in soaring food prices after a landmark deal with Russia was reached last month to allow its exports.
Earlier, Guterres met Erdogan — who helped broker the food deal signed in Istanbul — and Zelensky said the UN wanted to expand work under the deal by winter.
global food security
Kyiv said the agreement was the only major agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion in February, with 25 ships carrying 600,000 tonnes of agricultural products so far set off from three designated ports.
But in a call with Macron — their first in nearly three months — Putin told the French leader that Russia faces obstacles in the export of food and fertilizer.
“Russian exports still have obstacles that do nothing to solve problems related to ensuring global food security,” the Kremlin said.
Guterres is expected to travel to Turkey after visiting the joint coordination center overseeing the agreement in Odessa.
A deal between Kyiv and Moscow to clear export corridors at three Ukrainian ports, including Odessa, has brought some relief to warring nations among the world’s leading producers of fears of global food shortages.
The deal made progress on the vast front in eastern Ukraine, but brought little respite, with Russian troops slowly advancing after nearly six months of fighting.