Russian-aligned authorities have again accused Ukrainian troops of shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP), just one day before the arrival of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission.
"Today, at 06:50, the Ukrainian army shelled the premises of the Zaporozhye NPP and the city’s coastal line. Large-caliber artillery was used. Following this, two explosions were recorded near a building storing spent fuel," the Russian-installed military-civilian administration of Enerhodar said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Kremlin claimed Ukraine is trying to sabotage the IAEA’s ongoing mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant. "The Ukrainian side’s attempts to muddy the progress of the IAEA international mission, the intensified attacks on this site, and the use of increasingly heavy weapons negate all the statements uttered by the regime [of Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelensky] that Kyiv is allegedly interested in a successful visit by [IAEA head] Rafael Grossi,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a briefing on Wednesday.
Moscow and Kyiv have traded accusations over the reported shelling of the Zaporizhzhia NPP in the past months. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the attacks, adding that they have no reason to strike a facility under their control. Ukraine says the attacks are Russian false flag operations intended to portray Ukraine’s armed forces in a negative light. Neither side’s version of events has been independently corroborated.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv expects from the IAEA “a clear statement of facts of [Russia’s] violation of nuclear safety protocols,” adding that “Russia is putting not only Ukraine, but also [the] entire world at risk of nuclear accident.”
On Wednesday, the fifteen-strong IAEA team arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled regional capital of Zaporizhzhia. From there, they will travel to the Zaporizhzhia NPP. "The mission will take a few days. If we are able to establish a permanent presence, or a continued presence, then it’s going to be prolonged. But this first segment is going to take a few days," said IAEA chief Rafael Grossi. "We have a very important task there to perform—to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as we can," Grossi added.
“My mission is a technical mission,” Grossi told reporters. “It’s a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident.”
Russian forces captured the southern Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia plant is located, in March. The plant is being operated at reduced capacity by Ukrainian staff under the supervision of Russian troops. Lawmakers and experts have warned that continued attacks in the vicinity of the plant risk triggering a nuclear catastrophe.
Kyiv officials have called on Russian forces to withdraw from the area and for the Zaporizhzhia plant to be returned to Ukrainian control. “Every minute the Russian troops stay at the nuclear power plant is a risk of a global radiation disaster,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.