UN demands end to military activity at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The UN nuclear chief warned Thursday that "very alarming" military activity at Europe's largest nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine could lead to dangerous consequences for the region and called for an end to combat actions there.

Plant owner claims more Russian shelling at facility

A large, circular metal structure.
A view shows the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine on Aug. 4. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

The UN nuclear chief warned Thursday that "very alarming" military activity at Europe's largest nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine could lead to dangerous consequences for the region and called for an end to combat actions there.

Rafael Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine, who blame each other for the attacks at the plant, to immediately allow nuclear experts to assess damage and evaluate safety at the Zaporizhzhia facility.

Grossi demanded a halt to military actions "that have even the smallest potential to jeopardize nuclear safety" at such an important installation.

His appeal echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's call earlier Thursday for an end to all military activity around the Zaporizechzhia plant, warning that any damage could lead to "catastrophic consequences" in the vicinity, the region and beyond.s

Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, gave a virtual briefing to the UN Security Council at a meeting called by Russia to discuss what Moscow claims were Ukrainian attacks on the plant.

Grossi said statements received from Russia and Ukraine "are frequently contradicted" and the IAEA can't corroborate important facts unless its experts visit Zaporizhzhia.

The Ukrainian state company operating the plant, Enerhoatom, said there was renewed Russian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia facility and nearby buildings Thursday.

"Five [hits] were recorded near the plant management's office — right next to the welding site and the storage facility for radiation sources," Enerhoatom said in a post on its official Telegram channel. "The grass caught fire over a small area, but fortunately, no one was hurt."

While the plant is controlled by Russia, its Ukrainian staff continues to run the nuclear operations.

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Ukraine, Russia ambassadors spar over plant

Ukraine's UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsy, told the council the only way to remove the nuclear threats is by withdrawing Russian troops and returning the plant to Ukraine's control.

While Russian ambassador Vassiily Nebenzia said Russia supported an IAEA visit in June to Zaporizhzhia, which was given "a red light" at the last minute by UN security experts. Moscow is ready to provide "all possible assistance" to resolve any issues for a visit "even before the end of August," he said.

Yevhen Balytskyy, the Kremlin-installed temporary head of the Zaporizhzhia region, said Thursday that the Russia-backed administration there stood ready to ensure the safety and security of any IAEA delegation sent to investigate conditions. He said in an interview on Russian state TV that the Kremlin-backed authorities had prepared armoured vehicles for the international envoys.

But Kyslytsy blamed Russia's "unjustified conditions" for the delay in getting IAEA experts to Zaporizhzhia, and said Ukraine stands ready to provide "all necessary assistance" to facilitate the nuclear team's travels through Ukrainian-controlled territory, which is just five miles from the plant across the Dnieper River.

A man in a grey suit sits at a desk with a sign that says "Ukraine" on it.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, delivers remarks during a UN Security Council meeting regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on Thursday. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Guterres appealed in a statement "for common sense and reason" to avoid any actions "that might endanger the physical integrity, safety or security of the nuclear plant," and for the withdrawal of all military personnel and equipment.

More weapons for Ukraine, sanctions for Russia

Western nations made more pledges to send arms to Ukraine while the European Union's full ban on Russian coal imports kicked in Thursday, adding to the sanctions against Moscow that intelligence claims are hurting its defence exports.

Germany, seen early in Russia's invasion as a lackadaisical Ukrainian ally, is making what Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as a "massive" break with its past by sending weapons to the war-ravaged country.

Scholz said Germany "is shipping arms — a great, great many, sweeping and very effective. And we will continue to do so in the coming time." His government has approved military exports of at least $710 million U.S. and plans to provide further financial aid to Ukraine, the chancellor said.

At a conference in Copenhagen, Britain and Denmark also made additional commitments to help Ukraine's defence against Russia's invasion, which has devastated the nation and reverberated across the world.

To put more pressure on Russia, Britain announced it will send additional multiple launch rocket systems and guided missiles to Ukraine. The missiles can hit targets up to 80 kilometres away with pinpoint accuracy, the U.K. government said.

The new weapons, whose number wasn't specified, come on top of several rocket-launch systems Britain provided earlier this year after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking by videoconference to the meeting of mostly northern European countries, pleaded for more aid. "The sooner we stop Russia, the sooner we can feel safe," he said.

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Russia's military under pressure

A British defence intelligence update, highlighting "the increasing effect of Western sanctions," dovetails with Western belief that the series of measures imposed on the Kremlin since the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are increasingly having an impact on the Russian economy.

The update said that because of the war and sanctions, "its military industrial capacity is now under significant strain, and the credibility of many of its weapon systems has been undermined by their association with Russian forces' poor performance."

As the war nears the half-year point, Russia faces other challenges. Amid reports that hundreds of Russian soldiers were refusing to fight and trying to quit the military, covert recruitment efforts are underway that include using prisoners to make up for a shortage in trained troops.

Russia's military credibility came under more pressure on Wednesday when Ukraine said nine Russian warplanes were destroyed following explosions at an air base in Russian-controlled Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack.

Russia denied any aircraft were damaged in the blasts — or that any attack took place. But satellite photos clearly showed at least seven fighter planes at the base had been blown up and others probably damaged.

An aerial image showing concrete runways with charred areas of the ground nearby.
This satellite image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows destroyed Russian aircraft at Saki Air Base, in the Crimean Peninsula, after an explosion on Tuesday. (Planet Labs PBC/The Associated Press)

Ukraine ramps up counter-offensive

Ukrainian forces mounting a broad counter-offensive in the south have recaptured 54 settlements in the Kherson region, overrun by Russia in the early days of the war, the governor said Thursday. The governor said 92 per cent of the Kherson region remains under Russian occupation.

In the east of the country, the Ukrainian military said it had repelled Russian attempts to advance on the city of Bakhmut, a key target of Moscow's offensive in the Donetsk region. It also said Russian troops had tried and failed to break through Ukrainian defensive lines near the cities of Kramatorsk and Avdiivka, also in the Donetsk region.

The military also reported Russian shelling of dozens of towns and villages in Ukraine's north, south and east.

Russia, meanwhile, was taking apparent steps to strengthen its control over the eastern Luhansk region after driving out the last Ukrainian troops last month. Luhansk and Donetsk make up the Donbas, the industrial heartland.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, said he was joined on a visit to the region by Russia's top law enforcement and security officials and also the minister in charge of construction.

Medvedev, in a post on a messaging app, said they met with local Kremlin-backed officials to discuss "restoring infrastructure, repairing hospitals and preparing schools for the start of the school year, solving social problems and supporting civilians."

In Ukraine, a nuclear plant under Russian occupation has the international community warning of potential catastrophe. Guest host Michelle Shephard discusses the risks with Philip Crowther, international affiliate correspondent for the Associated Press; and Mariana Budjeryn, a Ukrainian nuclear expert at Harvard's Belfer Center.