Kyiv, Ukraine –
Ukraine’s military intelligence claims, without providing evidence, that Russia is planning a “large-scale provocation” at a nuclear power plant it occupies in the country’s southeast in an attempt to disrupt an imminent Ukrainian counterattack.
A statement issued by the Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Friday claimed that Russian forces would strike the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, the largest in Europe, and then report a radioactive leak in order to launch an international investigation that would stop hostilities. Give Russian forces the respite they need to restart. Regroup before counterattacks.
To achieve this, the statement said Russia had “suspended the rotation of personnel from the Permanent Observer Mission” of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency that was scheduled to take place on Saturday. No evidence was presented to support either claim.
The IAEA said in an emailed response to the Associated Press that it had no immediate comment on the allegations, and Russian officials did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian allegations.
The White House said it was monitoring the situation closely and had seen no indication of a radioactive material leak.
This assertion echoes similar statements made regularly by Moscow, alleging without evidence that Kiev is planning provocations using various weapons or dangerous materials in order to accuse Russia of war crimes.
It comes as Moscow’s army in Ukraine is preparing for an imminent counterattack by Kiev forces, which has yet to start but could start “tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or a week later,” the statement said. Ukrainian Minister of National Security and Defense Oleksiy Danilov. He said in an interview with the BBC on Saturday.
Zaporozhye Power Plant is one of the 10 largest nuclear power plants in the world. It is located in the partially occupied Zaporozhye region in southeastern Ukraine. The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months, but it still needs electricity and trained personnel to operate critical cooling systems and other safety features.
Close combat has repeatedly disrupted power supplies and raised fears of a potential disaster such as Chernobyl in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and released deadly radiation, contaminating a large area in the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
In other developments:
- On Saturday, Russia reported new attacks on its territory, with drones falling in its western regions and areas on the border with Ukraine. Pskov Governor Mikhail Vedernikov said on Saturday that two drones attacked an office building of an oil company in Russia’s western Pskov region on the borders between Belarus, Latvia and Estonia. Vedernikov said the building was damaged in the aftermath of the explosion. Local authorities said another drone was shot down in the Tver region, 150 km north of Moscow. Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, was hit by several bombings on Saturday, killing one person, according to its governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. Roman Starovoit, governor of the neighboring Kursk region, on the border with Ukraine, said one person was killed by mortar fire across the border.
- Britain’s military said on Saturday that Russia’s special military force, Wagner, is withdrawing from areas around the eastern town of Bakhmut which Moscow claims it captured earlier this month. Wagner’s commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, announced the withdrawal earlier this week, saying Wagner would hand over control of the devastated city to the Russian army. However, some were skeptical: Prigozhin is known for his unverifiable headline-grabbing statements, which he later retracted. But Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a series of tweets on Saturday that Wagner fighters had “most likely begun to withdraw from some of their positions” around Bakhmut. “The deputy defense minister of Ukraine also confirmed the rotation of Wagner forces on the outskirts of the city,” the ministry said.
Darlene Superville in Washington, DC, contributed to this story.