Russia’s military carried out a new wave of missile strikes on Thursday against the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, shortly after the Kremlin claimed that the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) belongs to the Russian government.
Local authorities said the strikes, one of which destroyed a high-rise apartment block, killed at least three and left others trapped under the rubble, according to Reuters. More explosions were reported later that day. "Attention! Another enemy missile attack. Stay in shelters!" Zaporizhzhia region governor Oleksandr Starukh wrote on Telegram.
Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday adding the Zaporizhzhia NPP to a list of “federal assets'' belonging to the Russian state. "The Russian government shall take measures to establish federal ownership of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant and other facilities necessary for its operation," read the decree, according to state news outlet TASS. Permits issued to the NPP and its employees prior to September 30 will remain in effect until replaced by new ones under Russian law, TASS added.
"The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is now on the territory of the Russian Federation and, accordingly, should be operated under the supervision of our relevant agencies," Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, according to Deutsche Welle. The Kremlin’s decree follows a decision by Moscow to annex the Zaporizhzhia region, in addition to Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Russian forces currently control about three-quarters of greater Zaporizhzhia, including the city of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia NPP is located.
Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom decried the decree as “void, absurd, and inadequate” in a statement. “Zaporizhzhia NPP will keep operating in Ukraine, under Ukrainian legislation, in the Ukrainian power system, and for Energoatom,” the statement added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reaffirmed on Thursday that the Zaporizhzhia NPP belongs to Ukraine. "This is a matter that has to do with international law," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters in Kyiv, according to Reuters. "We want the war to stop immediately, and of course the position of the IAEA is that this facility is a Ukrainian facility."
The IAEA conducted a mission to the Zaporizhzhia NPP earlier this summer to assess risks to the plant and “undertake vital safeguards activities.” The agency recommended the establishment of a nuclear safety zone to avert potential nuclear disaster as both sides traded accusations over shelling attacks against the plant. The IAEA previously said that Moscow and Kyiv have expressed interest in the proposal, though there are outstanding issues surrounding the plan’s execution. However, Grossi said on Thursday that “we made progress in the consideration of my proposal … to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant.”
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.