Macron calls for withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine nuclear plant

·4 min read
REUTERS - ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

French President Emmanuel Macron called on Russian forces to quit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant – Europe's largest – following a phone call Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who accused Moscow of "nuclear terrorism".

Ukrainian and Russian officials have traded accusations over who is responsible for attacks close to the nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.

Zelensky warned Russian soldiers that if they attacked the site in the now Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar, or used it as a base to shoot from, they would become a "special target".

He urged the world to show "strength and decisiveness" to defend the nuclear power station.

The topic was at the centre of talks between Zelensy and Macron during a phone call Tuesday that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

Writing on Twitter, Zelensky said the pair has discussed "nuclear terrorism" at the plant, but he gave no further details of their discussions.

In a statement, the Elysée Palace said Macron had "stressed his concern" about the threat posed by Russian armed forces and the "safety and security of Ukrainian nuclear facilities", while calling for the withdrawal of those forces.

Kyiv wants fresh sanctions on Moscow and has warned of the risks of a radioactive catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

Artillery strikes

Vladimir Rogov, a Russia official installed in Enerhodar, said Monday that about 25 heavy artillery strikes from US-made M777 howitzers had hit near the nuclear plant and residential areas during a two-hour period.

However, according to the head of the Ukrainian-controlled administration in the Nikopol district, which lies across the river from Enerhodar, it was Russian forces that had shelled the city to try to make it appear that Ukraine was attacking it.

Andriy Yermak, chief of the Ukrainian presidential staff, wrote on Twitter: "The Russians think they can force the world to comply with their conditions by shelling the Zaporizhzhia NPP [nuclear power plant]."

Potential UN visit?

Meanwhile, the United Nations says it has the logistics and security capacity to support a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if both Russia and Ukraine agree.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly held a phone call with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to discuss conditions for the safe functioning of the plant.

But Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy head of the Russian foreign ministry's nuclear proliferation and arms control department, was later quoted as saying it would be too dangerous for any IAEA mission to travel through the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to inspect the Zaporizhzhia plant.

This comes as Ukraine's parliament extended martial law for a further three months on Monday, and reiterated it is planning a counteroffensive to recapture the nuclear facility and neighbouring Kherson province – the largest part of the territory seized by Russia after its 24 February invasion.

Putin lashes out at NATO expansion into Asia-Pacific

Earleir this Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of seeking to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fuelling conflicts elsewhere in the world – specifically citing the contraversial visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan.

Addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow via videolink, Putin remarked: "The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict. And they act in exactly the same way, fuelling the potential for conflict in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"The American adventure in relation to Taiwan is not just a trip of an individual irresponsible politician, but part of a purposeful, conscious US strategy to destabilise and make chaotic the situation in the region and the world," he added.

He said the visit was a "brazen demonstration of disrespect for the sovereignty of other countries and for its [Washington's] international obligations".

"We see this as a carefully planned provocation," Putin said.

Also addressing today's conference, Russian Defence Minister Shoigu said that the AUKUS bloc of Australia, the United Kingdom and United States had the potential to develop into "a political-military alliance".

While claiming that Russia had no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Shoigu alleged that Ukrainian military operations were being planned by the United States and Britain, and that NATO had increased its troop deployment in Eastern and Central Europe "several times over".