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Amid concerns over a captured nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the United Nations has dismissed suggestions it was behind any delay in sending international inspectors to the Zaporizhzhye facility, as concerns grow amid reports of shelling around the plant, which Ukraine and Russian occupation troops each blame. the other.

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Ukrainian and international warnings have intensified as security teams work at gunpoint and the Russians prepare to divert energy production from Zaporizhzhye, which is Europe’s largest nuclear power plant with six reactors of soviet design.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York on August 15 that the world body’s nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acts independently, but that the Ukrainian and Russian sides must agree on a visit.

Dujarric said it was “simply not the case” that the executive branch of the UN was delaying any travel by IAEA people.

“The UN secretariat does not have the power to block or cancel” a visit to Zaporizhzhya, he said, and furthermore has “security, logistical capacity” in Ukraine for the sustain.

“But there has to be an agreement with Russia and Ukraine,” Dujarric added.

The UN comments followed Moscow’s pledge to do ‘everything necessary’ to allow IAEA experts to visit the Zaporizhzhya plant and Russia’s defense minister is said to have spoken to the secretary general of the UN, Antonio Guterres, on the situation in the installation.

Guterres urged that a demilitarized zone be created around Zaporizhzhya in southeastern Ukraine, near the center of fighting during Russia’s five-month-long invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s overtures came a day after 42 countries around the world signed a statement urging Russia to withdraw its armed forces from Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, saying their presence posed “a great danger”.

Kyiv and some Western leaders have accused Moscow of “nuclear blackmail” in its attacks on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities as well as its implied threats to deploy its nuclear arsenal if Ukraine’s supporters cross Kremlin red lines.

In his August 15 nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the international community must act to prevent an accident or other catastrophic events in Zaporizhzhya due to Russian actions.

“If now the world does not show strength and determination to defend a nuclear power plant, it will mean that the world has lost,” Zelenskiy said, according to Reuters. “He will lose to terrorism and give in to nuclear blackmail.”

Zelenskiy warned over the weekend that recent shelling of the plant had increased the threat of a radioactive leak. Russia does not deny having troops in the factory, but has disputed claims that it bombed the area. Instead, Moscow accuses Ukrainian forces of firing artillery shells there, which Kyiv officials deny.

The situation at the plant has caused increased concern at the United Nations and the IAEA. Both said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the plant.

“In close cooperation with the Agency and its leadership, we will do everything necessary to allow IAEA specialists to report to the station,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. . said in a press release August 15th.

Moscow later said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to António Guterres about Zaporizhzhya’s security.

“Sergei Shoigu conducted telephone negotiations with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres regarding the conditions for the safe operation of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

He did not specify.

Guterres’ office did not immediately confirm the conversation or its substance, and it was unclear whether spokesman Dujarric’s comments reflected a conversation with Shoigu.

On August 14, the statement by 42 countries condemned Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and said the presence of Russian military forces at the plant prevented the authorities from maintaining their nuclear and radiation safety obligations.

“It is undeniable that Russia’s invasion and continued presence at Ukrainian nuclear facilities significantly increases the risk of nuclear incidents and accidents,” the statement posted on the European Union’s website reads.

“We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its military forces and any other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, its immediate surroundings and all of Ukraine so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities can resume their sovereign responsibilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and legitimate operating personnel can perform their duties without outside interference, threat or unacceptable working conditions.

“The deployment of Russian military personnel and weapons in the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the principles of safety, security and safeguards that all IAEA members are committed to respecting,” he added. communicated.

This statement has been issued on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States, as well as the European Union.

With reports from AFP and Reuters

James R. Rhodes