Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear power company Energoatom, accused Russian forces of turning the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant into a military base this week. Speaking to the BBC, Kotin said that there was a “great” threat to the plant, but that it remains safe for now.
The plant, the largest in Europe, has been occupied by Russian soldiers since March. While Russian troops technically control the plant, it remains in operation with a team of Ukrainian staff keeping the facility functioning and safe.
According to Kotin, 500 Russian soldiers are currently at the plant and several Russian rocket launchers are positioned in the facility. While the BBC states that the claims have not been independently verified, reports from the early days of the invasion revealed how Russian soldiers were driving heavy military vehicles on the power plant’s grounds and more recent video footage proved that it continues to happen.
In one clip, a Russian armored vehicle is seen entering the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The vehicle drives through the plant towards an entrance and then disappears inside of the building. The vehicle could have been dropping off or picking up supplies, weapons, or personnel.
Power Plant a “Shield”
Kotin told the BBC that Russian forces are using the power plant “like a shield against the Ukrainian forces,” adding that Russia knows Ukrainian troops won’t strike back over the risk it poses.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces know that these are Ukrainian personnel and this is a Ukrainian plant and there are Ukrainian people, so we aren’t going to kill our people, our staff and damage our infrastructure,” he said.
Nonetheless, Ukraine and Russia have spent several days accusing one another of launching a rocket attack on the site which resulted in two plant workers being taken to the hospital with shrapnel injuries. There were also reports of radiation sensors being damaged in the strike.
Who Launched Rocket Strikes on the Plant?
On Sunday, Ukraine accused Russia of launching rockets at the plant only a day after the United Nations warned that Russia’s continued use of the plant as a base posed a “nuclear disaster.”
Energoatom released a statement on Telegram describing how rockets were “aimed specifically at the containers with processed fuel, which are stored outside next to the site of the shelling.”
“This time a nuclear catastrophe was miraculously avoided, but miracles cannot last forever,” the statement also reads.
Russia, however, accused Ukraine of launching the attack.
On Monday, top Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the plant were to be damaged in a strike and insisted that Russian forces launched no such strike.
“The shelling of the territory of the nuclear plant by the Ukrainian armed forces is a potentially extremely dangerous activity,” Peskov said. “Fraud with catastrophic consequences for a vast area, including the territory of Europe.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that Peskov has accused Ukraine of launching strikes that Russian forces were responsible for, either. Throughout the conflict, Peskov has repeatedly insisted that Russian troops never target residential buildings and even argued that Ukrainian “Nazis” may be responsible for some of the attacks as part of a false flag effort to hurt Russia’s credibility.
If Peskov is telling the truth this time, however, it suggests that talk of Russian forces using the power plant as a military base, with ammunition and weapons stored safely within its grounds, is true.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.