Russia denies nuke plant pullout
Following a string of Ukrainian military successes in the south, the Kremlin sought on Monday to tamp down speculation that Russian forces would withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex, with President Vladimir V. Putin’s spokesman saying that Moscow has no plans to end its military occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.
“One should not look for signs where there are none and cannot be any,” said the spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.
Peskov’s comments came after some pro-Russian military bloggers wrote posts suggesting that Moscow’s forces would withdraw from the area and after Ukrainian officials said there were indications that Russia was taking steps to leave the facility.
Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhia plant soon after invading Ukraine in late February, stationing troops and military equipment there. A withdrawal from the plant would mark another setback for Russian forces in a region that Putin has sought to annex illegally.
On Sunday, Petro Kotin, the president of the Ukrainian state nuclear energy company, Energoatom, said that there were signs that Russian troops were “packing and stealing whatever they can find” at the Zaporizhzhia complex, although he emphasized that there was no evidence that the troops had actually begun to pull out.
Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have scored a series of victories in southern Ukraine, including retaking the key city of Kherson on November 11. But military analysts said that there was no immediate indication that they were threatening Russia’s grip on the plant, which lies on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, about 160km northeast of Kherson.
Instead, the reports from Russian military bloggers — a hawkish and pro-invasion group — suggest concerns about Moscow’s ability to hold the plant and could be an attempt to “prepare the information space for an eventual Russian withdrawal” from Zaporizhzhia, the Institute for the Study of War, a research group that tracks the conflict, wrote in its daily analysis on Sunday. The nuclear plant — which provided 20 per cent of Ukraine’s electricity before the war — has careened from one crisis to another since Russian forces seized the facility on March 4.
Shelled repeatedly, it has cycled down all of its reactors as a safety measure and has been disconnected from the Ukrainian power grid on multiple occasions, forcing it to use diesel generators to perform critical cooling functions. The Ukrainian staff members operating the plant, whose numbers have more than halved, have reported being detained and abused by Russian soldiers. Witnesses also have accused the Russian forces of laying mines in and around the plant.
After International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited the plant, the head of the agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, called for the creation of a demilitarised safe zone around the facility to cut the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.
(New York Times News Service)