The liberation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP is one of the most important and difficult issues in the de-occupation of southern Ukraine. Recent events indicate that this may happen soon.
A convenient tool for blackmail
Having turned the ZNPP into a real military base, the occupiers were still forced to allow a short-term mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there. In its report, the IAEA confirmed that Russia had stationed “military personnel, vehicles and equipment” at various locations on the station.
The situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant came into focus at the beginning of August, when the Russian military stepped up shelling of the plant. Power lines were damaged several times as a result of shelling, the power plant was completely cut off, there was a threat of a nuclear disaster, but the generators were turned on.
In October, the Russian dictator Putin decided to transfer the ZNPP “to the management of Russia”, but nothing came of it. At the same time, the Russians reject calls for the demilitarization of the nuclear power plant under the pretext that they have to “protect it” from provocations and blame Ukraine for the shelling. And recently, the occupiers banned part of the station’s employees from being on its territory due to their refusal to sign contracts with Rosatom.
Trying to solve this problem, the IAEA continues negotiations with Kyiv and Moscow on the creation of a demilitarized zone around the ZNPP. Last week, IAEA Director General Raphael Grossi met with the delegation of the Russian Federation, and on November 29, in Bucharest, he held talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba. At the same time, Grossi said that the IAEA will increase its presence at all nuclear power plants in Ukraine.
According to Dmytro Snegyrev, co-chairman of the public initiative Right to Work, the seizure of the ZNPP was one of the main goals of the so-called “special military operation” of the Russians after the invasion of Ukraine. Accordingly, Russia considers further control over the ZNPP as one of the priorities in possible peace negotiations with Ukraine and the West.
“The federal program of the so-called energy bridge (the transfer of electricity from the territory of Russia to Crimea) turned out to be costly and practically did not justify itself. There were constant problems with the energy supply of the peninsula, – he noted in a blog for Glavkom. – As of today, the Zaporizhia NPP has actually been turned into a military facility “object of special purpose. Ukrainian intelligence recorded the presence on its territory of heavy armored vehicles of the occupiers, special equipment, and personnel. At the same time, it is interesting that the protection of the nuclear power plant is carried out by fighters of the Akhmat regiment.”
From time to time there are information leaks from the Russian side regarding a possible man-made disaster at the ZNPP – if an attempt is made to de-occupy the station from the side of Ukraine, the expert continued. At the same time, the occupiers are shelling the station themselves, trying to pass it off as Ukrainian shelling.
“That is, Russia is artificially inciting hysteria over a possible radioactive release or damage to a spent nuclear fuel storage facility located at the ZNPP industrial site. I will remind you that recently IAEA Director Raphael Grossi reported that all military actions that threaten the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities must be stopped immediately. The situation with nuclear safety in Ukraine is becoming increasingly unstable, complex and potentially dangerous,” Snehiriov emphasized.
According to the Pentagon, the shelling carried out by Russia near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant shows that the Kremlin is not afraid of the possibility of creating a nuclear disaster.
“The attacks demonstrate Russia’s readiness to increase the risk of a nuclear security incident, which could have harmful consequences not only in Ukraine, but also in the entire region,” a representative of the US Department of Defense told reporters on November 29, Voice of America reported.
And another representative of the Pentagon noted that there is currently no intense fighting around Zaporizhzhia. And he added: Washington is closely monitoring reports that the Russians are allegedly going to hand over control of the nuclear power plant to the IAEA.
“If they handed over control of the nuclear plant in a responsible manner, it would be great,” the US Defense Ministry official emphasized.
Guarantee of deoccupation of the station
But recently (more precisely, after the de-occupation of Kherson) there have been certain “symptoms” of improvement in the situation around the ZNPP: on November 27, during a telethon, the president of NAEK Energoatomu Petro Kotin reported on the signs of preparations of the Russian military to leave the territory of the plant.
“In recent weeks, we have been receiving information that there have been signs that they (the occupiers – ed.) may be going to leave the ZANP. First, a lot of publications began to appear in the Russian press that the ZANP, maybe it should be left, maybe it should be handed over to the IAEA. It’s like, you know, it’s like they’re packing, they’re stealing whatever they can find,” he said.
Mykhailo Podolyak, the advisor to the head of the President’s Office, also believes that the Russians will not be able to keep the ZNPP under their control, since its line of defense is gradually moving towards the borders of Russia.
“You know, I have signs that the Russians will leave the territory of Ukraine altogether, to put it mildly,” he answered the question of whether the occupiers of the ZNPP will leave on the air of TSN on November 28.
According to Podoliak, this time in Russia it was not possible to repeat the same trick as in 2014 with the occupied Crimea, “when everyone said on the sidelines – well, we understand that you are wrong, but we will pretend that we are not we see”.
“They thought that now the situation would be the same: they would seize the ZNPP and other territories and write them into the constitution of the Russian Federation. They will say that now Rosatom will have jurisdiction over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And the world will answer: well, we won’t admit it publicly , but on the sidelines we will say – okay, we will consider that it is already yours. In fact, everything is open, at all levels, even in the IAEA (where Russia has a very large representation, because many members from it are included in one or another executive body of the IAEA ), even this instance says: look, Rosatom has absolutely no jurisdiction or actual control over the ZNPP, Podolyak said. This plant is exclusively Ukrainian. We strongly suggest, and the IAEA confirms this, to fulfill the existing agreements. That is, to remove the army from there and to return there the Ukrainian personnel who are well versed in the management of this station.”
The adviser to the head of the OP additionally emphasized that after nine months of incredible defense of Ukraine against the Russian invaders, “no one in the world behaves as they did in 2014.”
“Therefore, Russia will not be able to keep the ZNPP both factually and legally, we will take it in any case. At the same time, the number of losses and all reputational negatives will fall exclusively on Russia. Therefore, this country is like a state of exceptional cowardice, because it fights only when they are afraid of her, and not when they try to knock out her teeth with a counterattack – she will run away. It is difficult, but it is already happening. Of course, we hope that the ZNPP will be liberated as soon as possible, as well as the entire very important Zaporozhye direction,” he summarized Podolyak
But the press secretary of the President of Russia, Dmytro Peskov, hastened to refute the information about the possible withdrawal of Russian soldiers from the ZNPP and Energodar. But everyone already knows the cost of such statements. This may soon turn out to be about the same “truth” as “Kyiv in three days” or “Russia in Kherson forever”.