Putin ‘planning provocation’ at nuclear plant to disrupt Ukraine counteroffensive, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s defence ministry claims Russian forces will strike the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Joe Middleton
Sunday 28 May 2023 00:04 BST
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Water rushes over destroyed Ukrainian dam after Russian shelling

Russia is plotting a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power station it occupies in the southeast of Ukraine to disrupt an imminent counteroffensive, Kyiv’s military intelligence has claimed.

A statement from the intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defence ministry claimed Russian forces will strike the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.

It will then report a radioactive leak in order to trigger an international probe that would pause the hostilities and give them the respite they need to regroup.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will be targeted, it’s claimed
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant will be targeted, it’s claimed (AP)

In order to make that happen, Russia “disrupted the rotation of personnel of the permanent monitoring mission” of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that was scheduled for Saturday, the statement said. It did not offer evidence to back up any of the claims.

The IAEA said it did not have any immediate comment on the allegations and Russian officials did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian claims.

The White House said it is watching the situation closely and has seen no indication radioactive material has been leaked.

It comes as Moscow’s military in Ukraine braces for a looming counteroffensive by Kyiv’s forces, which has not started yet but could begin “tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or in a week”, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told the BBC.

A Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut
A Ukrainian soldier near Bakhmut (AP)

He said the government in Kyiv had “no right to make a mistake” on the decision because this is a “historic opportunity” that “we cannot lose”.

The Zaporizhzhia station is one of the 10 biggest nuclear plants in the world. It is in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine.

The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months but it still needs power and qualified staff to operate crucial cooling systems and other safety features.

Firefighters hose down a policlinic following a Russian attack in Dnipro on Friday
Firefighters hose down a policlinic following a Russian attack in Dnipro on Friday (AP)

Fighting near it repeatedly disrupted power supplies and has fuelled fears of a potential catastrophe like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area.

In other developments on Saturday, Russia reported more attacks on its territory, with drones crashing in its western regions and areas on the border with Ukraine coming under shelling.

Two drones attacked an administrative building of an oil company in Russia’s western Pskov region that borders Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, Pskov governor Mikhail Vedernikov reported on Saturday.

The building was damaged as the result of an explosion, Mr Vedernikov said.

An officer of Ukraine's 59th Motorised Brigade controls a drone from a shelter in the suburbs of Donetsk
An officer of Ukraine's 59th Motorised Brigade controls a drone from a shelter in the suburbs of Donetsk (AP)

Another drone went down in the Tver region about 145km (90 miles) north of Moscow, local authorities said.

Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine came under multiple rounds of shelling on Saturday, killing one person, according to its governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

In the neighbouring Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, one person was killed by cross-border mortar fire, its governor Roman Starovoit said.

And a 60-year-old man was killed by Russian shelling in the city of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, about 32km (20 miles) from the Russian border, Ukraine’s national police said.

Ukrainian servicemen fire a Partyzan multiple launch rocket system towards Russian troops near a frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region
Ukrainian servicemen fire a Partyzan multiple launch rocket system towards Russian troops near a frontline in the Zaporizhzhia region (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin warned his country was yet to “act very seriously” in the conflict.

Mr Kelin told the BBC that Moscow had “enormous resources” and the country was “16 times bigger than Ukraine.”

He said: “Sooner or later, of course, this escalation may get a new dimension which we do not need and we do not want. We can make peace tomorrow.”

In addition, the British military said on Saturday that Russia’s private military force, Wagner, is withdrawing from areas around the eastern city of Bakhmut that Moscow claims to have captured earlier this month.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier this week announced the pullout, saying Wagner would hand control over the ruined city over to the Russian military. Some were sceptical, however.

Mr Prigozhin is known for making unverifiable, headline-grabbing statements on which he later backtracks.

But Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a series of tweets on Saturday that Wagner fighters “have likely started to withdraw from some of their positions” around Bakhmut.

“The Ukrainian deputy defence minister also corroborated the rotation out of Wagner forces in the outskirts of the town,” it added.

Additional reporting by agencies

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