Putin seizes Europe's largest nuclear plant, signs laws annexing Ukraine land; OPEC cuts oil production, helps Russia: Updates

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Wednesday claiming ownership of the beleaguered Zaporizhzhia power plant, even as the director of Ukraine's nuclear power company said he would assume operations of the plant, which is Europe's largest nuclear facility.

The announcement came hours after Putin signed laws annexing the Zaporizhzhia region. Earlier in the day, Energoatom chief Petro Kotin said he would be running the Russian-held plant from the capital, Kyiv. The company called Putin's decree, "worthless'' and “absurd.”

The plant has been the focus of deep global concern. Both sides blame each other for bombings that have damaged parts of the plant and threaten to trigger a catastrophe, international nuclear experts warn.

"The need for a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone (NSSPZ) around #Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is now more urgent than ever," tweeted Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The plant's Ukrainian director was kidnapped Friday and released this week by Russian forces who occupy the facility. Ukrainian workers continue to operate the plant, which halted power generation last month.

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Other developments:

►Seven Russian rockets slammed into residential buildings in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia before dawn Thursday, killing one person and trapping at least five in the city close to Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, the governor of the mostly Russian-occupied region said.

►The U.S. deployed its international development chief to Ukraine on Thursday, the highest-ranking American official to visit the country since Russia illegally annexed the four regions. The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, traveled to Kyiv and was holding meetings with government officials and residents.

►A former Russian state TV journalist charged with spreading false information after staging an on-air protest against the war said in a Facebook post Wednesday that she has released herself from house arrest. Marina Ovsyannikova's ex-husband says she fled with her young daughter.

►A Russian cosmonaut rocketed from U.S. soil for the first time in 20 years Wednesday, launching to the International Space Station alongside NASA and Japanese astronauts despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.

►Russian troops used six Iranian drones to strike the town of Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region, leaving one person wounded, Ukraine’s presidential office said. The strikes were the first on the town since March, when the Russians retreated from the area around the Ukrainian capital.

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Putin signs law annexing Ukraine land despite military setbacks

Putin, ignoring international outrage and the struggles of his military, signed laws Wednesday ratifying the annexation of four Ukraine regions, including two that make up the crucial Donbas region he has targeted since the war began.

"I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me, so that everyone remembers this – people living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia become our citizens forever,” Putin said.

The paperwork is vague on the boundaries of the land Russia is claiming, but Russian media said Putin annexed about 43,000 square miles. Ukraine, almost the size of Texas, estimates about 15% of its territory was annexed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the land grab might not be done, saying “certain territories will be reclaimed, and we will keep consulting residents who would be eager to embrace Russia.”

Some of the territory has already been retaken by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks, and most of the world does not recognize the annexations.

“The worthless decisions of the terrorist country are not worth the paper they are signed on,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukraine President’s Office, said on Telegram.

A police officer looks at destroyed Russian armored vehicles at a collection point in an animal feed plant in the recently retaken town of Lyman in Donetsk region, on October 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32KT2GX.jpg
A police officer looks at destroyed Russian armored vehicles at a collection point in an animal feed plant in the recently retaken town of Lyman in Donetsk region, on October 5, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP) (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32KT2GX.jpg

Reduced oil production by OPEC+ benefits Russia

Wednesday's decision by an alliance of oil-exporting countries to significantly slash production could boost Russia's war efforts, as the expected rise in oil prices helps replenish the country's coffers and blunts the impact of efforts by the U.S. and its allies to cut into the Kremlin's leading source of revenue.

The reduction of 2 million barrels a day by OPEC+ will also make it easier for member Russia to withstand a European ban on most of Moscow’s oil due to start in December, though only to a certain extent because countries in the oil cartel already can’t meet their quotas.

President Joe Biden called the decision “short-sighted’’ in light of the negative effects Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had on the global economy, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who added: “It’s clear that OPEC+ is aligning with Russia with today’s announcement.”

The European Union agreed Wednesday on new sanctions that are expected to include a price cap on Russian oil, meant to diminish the funding President Vladimir Putin has available for his war machine. But with tighter oil supplies on the market, major buyers like China and India could be less likely to join the effort, limiting its impact.

Increasing signs of torture in liberated towns

The continued liberation of towns in the east and south of the country is reason to celebrate for Ukrainian troops. What they find is not.

Retreating Russian troops are not only leaving behind barren, destroyed communities, but also disturbing signs of abuse and torture.

Serhiy Bolvinov, who heads the investigative department of the national police in the northeastern Kharkiv region, said authorities are investigating an alleged Russian torture chamber in the village of Pisky-Radkivski. He posted a photo of a box with what looked like teeth and dentures, presumably extracted from those held at the site.

Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, told The Associated Press four bodies had been found in Kharkiv towns with signs of torture. Authorities were trying to confirm whether they were civilians. All four had their hands bound or linked by handcuffs. Kostin also said the bodies of 24 civilians, including 13 children and one pregnant woman, were found in six cars near Kupiansk, also in Kharkiv.

Russian military struggles could topple Belarusian leader

Belarus’ opposition leader says she believes that Russian military setbacks in Ukraine could shake Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's hold on power. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Wednesday at a security conference in Warsaw that Russia appears to be “about to lose this war.” That could make it impossible for Putin to prop up Lukashenko, Putin's closest global ally, she said.

Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania after Lukashenko claimed victory in August 2020 elections that were decried in the West as fraudulent.

In annexed Luhansk, Ukrainian leader says de-occupation has begun

Ukrainian troops have begun driving Russian troops out of the Luhansk region and are "raising the Ukrainian flag" in some settlements, regional Gov. governor Serhiy Haidai announced on social media. Russia had taken almost complete control of the crucial province and had seized half of neighboring Donetsk before the Ukrainian counteroffensive began a month ago. About one-third of Luhansk was controlled by Russian-backed militias before the war began. Militia leaders tried to form the Luhansk People's Republic, but only Russia and a few other nations recognized the republic.

EU approves 8th round of Russian sanctions

The European Union, citing the annexations, agreed Wednesday to impose new sanctions on Russia, including an expected price cap on Russian oil. Details of the sanctions were expected to be released as soon as Thursday, but curbs on EU exports of aircraft components to Russia and limits on Russian steel imports are expected to be included in the package.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the eighth round of sanctions, saying Europe is "determined to continue making the Kremlin pay" for invading Ukraine.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine, Tuesday Oct. 4, 2022.
Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Ukraine, Tuesday Oct. 4, 2022.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live: Russia claims Europe's largest nuclear plant; OPEC oil decision