Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to allow a team of independent inspectors to travel via Ukraine to the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the French presidency said Friday.
The apparent resolution of a dispute over whether inspectors travel to the plant via Ukraine or Russia came when a senior US defense official said Ukrainian forces had halted Russia’s advance.
“You see a complete and utter lack of progress by the Russians on the battlefield,” the official said, speaking to reporters on an anonymity basis.
According to the office of French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin had reconsidered “the demand” that the International Atomic Energy Agency travel through Russia to the site, after the Russian leader himself warned that fighting there could cause a “catastrophe”.
It mentioned that Putin had dropped his demand that the IAEA team travel to the site via Russia and said it could arrive via Ukraine.
Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Moscow troops, who occupy the Zaporizhzhya plant in southern Ukraine, not to disconnect the plant from the electrical grid and potentially cut supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
A flare-up of fighting around the Russian-controlled nuclear power plant — with both sides blaming each other for attacks — has raised the specter of disaster worse than at Chernobyl.
The Kremlin said in a statement earlier that Putin and Macron agreed that officials of the UN nuclear watchdog should conduct inspections “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground”.
Putin “also stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian army of the territory of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant poses the danger of a large-scale catastrophe,” the Kremlin added.
The warning came just a day after Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, who met in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lviv, raised the alarm about intensified fighting, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the United Nations to close the site. to secure.
The Turkish leader said: “We are concerned. We do not want another Chernobyl”, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster, while Guterres warned that any damage to the factory would be comparable to “suicide”.
– ‘Man-made disaster’ –
During his visit to the southern port of Odessa on Friday, the UN Secretary-General said: “It is clear that the electricity from Zaporizhzhya is Ukrainian electricity. This principle must be fully respected”.
“Of course his energy should be used by the Ukrainian people,” he told AFP in separate comments.
His comments came after Ukrainian energy company Energoatom claimed Russian forces planned to “shut down the reactors” in Zaporizhzhya, which is capable of supplying four million homes.
On Thursday, Moscow said Kiev was preparing a “provocation” at the site, in which Russia would be “accused of causing a man-made disaster at the factory”.
Kiev, however, insisted that Moscow planned the provocation, saying the Russian occupying forces had ordered most personnel to stay at home on Friday and summoned officials from Russia’s own state nuclear agency.
The UN chief visited Odessa as part of a call to make Ukrainian grain available to poor countries struggling with rising food prices, following a landmark agreement with Russia last month to allow its export.
Earlier, Guterres met with Erdogan — who helped broker the Istanbul grain deal — and Zelensky, and said the United Nations hoped to scale up work under the agreement before the winter.
The deal, the only major agreement between Russia and Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February, has so far departed 25 boats carrying some 600,000 tons of agricultural produce from three designated ports, Kiev said.
But during the conversation with Macron – their first in nearly three months – Putin told the French leader that Russia was facing obstacles in the export of its food products and fertilizers.
– Export ‘obstacles’ –
“There are still obstacles to…Russian exports that are not helping to solve problems related to ensuring global food security,” the Kremlin said.
Guterres is expected to go to Turkey after Odessa to visit the Joint Coordination Center, the body charged with overseeing the agreement.
The deal between Kiev and Moscow to clear the exit corridors of three Ukrainian ports, including Odessa, has brought some relief to concerns about global food shortages with the belligerent countries of the world’s leading producers.
The deal held, but brought little peace along the sprawling front lines in eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have slowly moved forward after nearly six months of fighting.
The main tool of Moscow’s forces has been artillery shelling, and recent bombing raids on the eastern region of Donetsk – which has been partially controlled by Russian proxies since 2014 – left several dead.
Ukraine’s head of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on social media Friday that five people had been killed and ten others injured in three settlements.
Strikes early Friday in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, have killed one person and damaged a school and a private business, the region’s chief said. More than 12 people have been killed in Russian attacks around Kharkov in the past two days.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)