Nuclear plant risk high on agenda as UN chief, Zelenskiy and Erdoğan prepare for talks | Ukraine

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Lviv later on Thursday. They are expected to discuss grain shipments, negotiations for a political settlement for the war and concerns about the nuclear power plant occupied by Russian troops.

Guterres has said he wants to establish a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia factory, the largest in Europe.

Russian state media have accused Ukraine of planning a “provocation” at the factory to coincide with the UN leader’s trip, raising fears that the Russian military may be planning a “false flag attack”. When Guterres traveled to Kiev in April, Moscow launched an air raid on the city.

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On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Russia’s seizure of the plant had “increased the risk of a nuclear accident or incident”, accusing Moscow of being “reckless” in using the area as a platform to conduct artillery strikes. on Ukrainian troops.

Stoltenberg called for a Russian withdrawal and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had spoken with the UN nuclear watchdog and was prepared to lead a delegation to the plant.

A soldier with a Russian flag on his uniform guards a fence at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.
A soldier with a Russian flag on his uniform guards a fence at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant. Photo: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Two issues are causing growing concern over the situation at the Zaporizhzhya factory, which has been under Russian control since March but employs Ukrainian personnel.

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International nuclear safety officials are concerned about the lack of spare parts, access for routine reactor maintenance and contact with personnel, all of which have been disrupted by the conflict.

A second problem is shelling around the factory, with Russians and Ukrainians accusing each other of targeting the site. According to Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear authority, the grad missile impacts were close to the spent fuel storage area earlier this month, with the plant’s operator claiming that Russian forces had “specifically” targeted the containers, despite the presence of nuclear weapons. the Russian army at the site.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said Ukraine should “prepare for all scenarios” during an exercise for aid workers in Zaporizhzhya.

Also on the agenda of the summit is progress on grain shipments, which have been blocked for months by the Russian invasion.

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On Friday, Guterres will travel to the port of Odessa on the Black Sea, a crucial gateway for Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world. He will then proceed to Turkey to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body charged with overseeing the agreement.

Ukraine’s fields feed hundreds of millions of people around the world, so the abrupt cessation of shipments drove up global grain prices at a time when famine is already threatening East Africa.

Last Saturday a grain shipment from Ukraine was unloaded in Ravenna, a port in Italy.
A grain shipment from Ukraine is unloaded last Saturday at the port of Ravenna, Italy. Photo: Reuters TV/Reuters

The UN reached an agreement last month to restart shipments. So far, 24 ships have left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, a monitoring group said.

Kiev is behind 18 million tons of grain from last year’s crop, even as it begins to bring in the 2022 crop. It hopes to soon increase exports to 3 million tons per month, lowering world prices and freeing up storage space for new grain.

A Guterres spokesperson said discussions would center on the grain deal and “the need for a political solution to this conflict”, telling AFP he had “no doubt the nuclear power plant issue” would be raised.

On August 24, it will be six months since the start of the invasion – which Russia calls a “special military operation” – and several members of the UN Security Council, including the US, Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Norway, have summoned until a meeting on that date.

Kiev is expected to launch a counter-offensive in southern Ukraine in the coming weeks and has carried out spectacular attacks deep into Russian-occupied territory, including at an airbase in Crimea. But despite the supply of Western weapons and ammunition, Ukraine is still struggling with heavy Russian artillery shelling along the eastern front.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video on Wednesday that the war had reached a “strategic stalemate”.

“Russian troops have made only minimal progress, and in some cases we have made progress since last month,” he said.

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