Odesa, Ukraine – Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that independent inspectors can travel to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the French presidency said Friday, as fears grow over fighting near the site.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office, Putin had ‘reconsidered’ his demand that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s chief, Rafael Grossi, ‘welcomed recent statements indicating that both Ukraine and Russia supported the IAEA’s aim to send a mission’ to the plant.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Moscow’s forces occupying Zaporizhzhia not to disconnect the facility from the grid and potentially cut supplies of electricity to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up in fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power station – with both sides blaming each other for attacks – has raised the specter of a disaster worse than in Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said that Putin and Macron agreed that the IAEA should carry out inspections ‘as soon as possible’ to ‘assess the real situation on the ground.’
Putin also ‘stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,’ the Kremlin added.
‘Most tragic’ summer
The warning came a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, meeting in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, sounded the alarm over the fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the United Nations to secure the site.
‘This summer may go down in the history of various European countries as one of the most tragic of all time,’ Zelenskyy said in his Friday evening address.
‘No instruction at any nuclear power plant in the world provides a procedure in case a terrorist state turns a nuclear power plant into a target.’
During his visit to the southern port of Odesa on Friday, the U.N. secretary-general said that ‘obviously, the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected.’
‘Naturally, its energy must be used by the Ukrainian people,’ he told AFP in separate comments.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kyiv was preparing a ‘provocation’ at the site that would see Russia ‘accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.’
Kyiv, however, insisted that Moscow was planning the provocation, and said Russia’s occupying forces had ordered most staff to stay home Friday.
The United States on Friday announced a new $775 million arms package, including more precision-guided missiles for HIMARS systems that enable Ukraine to strike Russian targets far behind the front lines.