Russia and Ukraine accused each other on Wednesday of plotting an explosion at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, further raising tensions over one of the war’s main flashpoints, even as analysts said the immediate risk of serious harm to the facility appeared low.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, citing the country’s intelligence service, said that Russian troops who seized the plant in March of last year have placed objects that look like explosives on the roof of several of its power units, possibly with the intent of simulating an attack and blaming it on Ukraine. He didn’t elaborate and the claim could not be independently confirmed, but Ukrainian officials have been increasingly ratcheting up warnings of nuclear sabotage.
“The only source of danger to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is Russia and no one else,” Zelensky said in an overnight speech, adding that he had spoken by telephone with President Emmanuel Macron of France about his concerns. Hanna Malyar, a Ukrainian deputy defence minister, accused Russia on Wednesday of “escalating the situation” at the plant.
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said that Ukraine planned to sabotage the plant and that Russia had taken measures to counteract the threat. He described the situation as “quite tense”. He cited no evidence for the claim and provided no details.
The plant, the largest in Europe and the first to be occupied by foreign troops has been the focus of global concern. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has repeatedly warned of the chances of disaster, including sounding alarms last month over an “extremely fragile” security situation, amid shelling around the plant and other security issues.
Ukrainian authorities conducted widespread drills last week to test their emergency response, though some residents in the city of Nikopol, just a few miles from the plant, said they had no plans to leave, in part because they have nowhere else to go.
Biden administration officials said last week that they did not believe a threat was imminent but that they were watching “very, very closely”.
The Ukrainian and Russian warnings have intensified after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam downstream of the plant last month. Moscow blamed Ukraine for the blast at the dam, but a New York Times analysis found that evidence suggested that Russia had blown up the dam itself. The dam’s destruction killed dozens, partly drained the reservoir next to the plant and flooded the river basin.
New York Times News Service