Ukraine has warned international inspectors not to be duped by Russia over the safety of a nuclear power station on the frontline of the two countries’ war, as Moscow accused Kyiv of trying to sneak spies masquerading as journalists into the plant.
Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived on Thursday at Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, located in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, which is run by Ukrainian staff overseen by Russian troops who seized the area in March.
Each side blames the other for shelling that has damaged sensors and power lines at the plant and fuelled fears of a radiation leak, and they accuse each other of escalating artillery fire around the facility to hamper the inspection.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the agency would have a “continued presence” at the site – where two of six reactors are now thought be generating power – but the size, duration and remit of this stay-behind mission is not clear.
“The occupiers lie, distort the facts and evidence that testify to their shelling of the power plant, as well as the consequences of damage to…infrastructure,” Ukrainian nuclear energy operator Energoatom said on Friday.
“The Russians did not allow the mission to enter … the crisis centre, where Russian military personnel are currently stationed,” the firm added, while listing several ways it believes the inspectors are being misled.
“It is clear that under such conditions it will be difficult for the IAEA to make an impartial assessment of the situation,” Energoatom said, arguing it was “impossible” to ensure “nuclear and radiation safety at the power plant … while it is under the control of the Russian occupation forces.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy also raised concerns, saying that he and Mr Grossi had agreed that Ukrainian and international media would be allowed to see the IAEA’s work at the power plant – but that Russian troops had prevented journalists from reaching the site.
“Unfortunately, the mission did not protect the journalists and did not put enough pressure on the Russians so that independent media would be at the plant,” Mr Zelenskiy said, warning that instead “Russian propagandists would dominate the place.”
“Unfortunately, we also have not yet heard from the IAEA the key thing – the call to Russia regarding demilitarisation of the plant,” he added.
Vladimir Rogov, a collaborationist official in the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia region, said Russia had prevented an attempt by “the Ukrainian special services, on Zelenskiy’s orders … to insert their spies and saboteurs into the IAEA delegation using cover as journalists”.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said alleged Ukrainian shelling of the plant amounted to “nuclear terrorism” and insisted that the IAEA would back Moscow’s claim that it is not storing heavy weapons at the plant or using it as a “shield” from which to fire at Ukrainian positions a few kilometres away across the Dnieper river.
“I underline that if there are further provocations, then all responsibility for possible emergencies will rest with the Ukrainian authorities,” he added.
Ukraine’s military reported on Friday that it was continuing to strike Russian forces and supply lines in the south of the country after launching a counterattack this week.
Mr Shoigu said Ukraine’s troops were suffering significant losses in an operation that he claimed was “planned by Zelenskiy’s office with the sole aim of creating an illusion for western handlers that the Ukrainian armed forces can go on the attack.”
Finance ministers for G7 states agreed on Friday to put a price cap on Russian crude oil and oil-based products, and said they hoped that a “broad coalition” of countries would implement a measure that could cut Kremlin revenue.