Putin plotting nuclear power plant explosion, Ukrainian official warns

Zaporizhzhia: Footage appears to show Russian equipment

Vladimir Putin could stage an attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to stir up panic and derail Ukrainian advances on the frontline, Ukraine’s energy minister has said, warning: “There are no red lines with Russia.”

Herman Halushchenko said the catastrophic collapse of a dam in the south of his country recently had made Kyiv worried that Russia be ready to target the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (ZNPP), with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky having issued similar claims.

Mr Halushchenko said Ukraine has become increasingly concerned in recent weeks about an alleged Russian ploy to attack ZNPP in a possible false flag operation, especially after the destruction of the Kakhokva dam in the Kherson region in late May.

Even though Russia has accused Ukraine of bombarding the facility, Kyiv blames Moscow for the attack, which triggered a humanitarian crisis and caused widespread ecological devastation. British investigators from Global Rights Alliance last month concluded Russia was “highly likely” to be responsible.

Speaking last week, Mr Zelensky, citing intelligence reports, accused Russian troops placed “objects resembling explosives” atop several power units to “simulate” an attack.

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Drone and satellite images have shown unidentified white objects on the roof of the plant’s fourth power unit, although Ukrainian leaders have so far been unable to provide further evidence.

Mr Halushchenko said he and Mr Zelensky had raised alarms as early as October 2022 that the Russians could plant mines to blow up the Kakhovka dam.

He said: “For many, many people it sounded ridiculous…and when it happened everybody understood that there are no red lines for them.

“And of course it’s all connected to the counter-offensive operation, and after Kakhovka, the one tool which they still have is Zaporizhzhia.”

ZNPP was seized by Russia in March 2022, in the first weeks of the war in Ukraine, raising fears of a nuclear accident. Over the last year, Russia and Ukraine repeatedly accused each other of shelling the plant.

Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed for weeks, without providing evidence, that Russia is planning a “large-scale provocation” at the nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, in the southeast of the country.

At about the same time, Ukraine launched the early phase of its much anticipated counter-offensive last month and has reported steady advances along multiple directions of the 1,500 kilometre(930-mile) frontline.

An incident at the plant could halt Ukraine’s advance, Mr Zelensky has predicted.

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Ukrainian military intelligence reports have said that Russia placed mines on the roof of the nuclear plant, and put remote-controlled and regular anti-personnel mines in technical and machine rooms.

Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute and satellite image expert, said the objects appeared to be placed on the roof of the unit’s turbine hall, and, if it turns out to be a bomb, was unlikely to cause serious damage to the reactor.

The Russians have cited security concerns in granting only limited access to officials from the International Atomic Atomic Energy Agency.

The agency’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said recently that the IAEA had recently gained access to more of the site, including the cooling pond and fuel storage areas.

The Ukrainians had said those areas were mined by the Russians, but the IAEA found they were not, Grossi said.

The agency has not yet been given access to inspect the roof of the plant.

Mr Haluschenko noted that the IAEA representatives were not able to access the entire site.

He added: “So the Russians allowed them to see only what they decided they could see, and that is the problem.”

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