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Amid concerns over a hijacked nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the United Nations has dismissed suggestions that it was behind delays in bringing international inspectors to the Zaporizhzhye facility, amid concerns mounting over reports of shelling around the power plant, which Ukraine and the Russian occupying forces each blame on the other.

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Ukrainian and international warnings have intensified as security forces work at gunpoint and Russians reportedly prepare to divert power generation from Zaporizhzhye, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant with six Soviet-designed reactors.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York on August 15 that the world body’s nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is acting independently, but the Ukrainian and Russian sides must agree on a visit.

Dujarric said it “simply isn’t the case” for the UN executive to delay any trip by IAEA people.

“The UN Secretariat has no authority to block or cancel a visit to Zaporizhia,” he said, adding that it has “the security, the logistical capacity” in Ukraine to support it.

“But there has to be an agreement with Russia and Ukraine,” added Dujarric.

The UN comments followed a pledge by Moscow to do “whatever is necessary” to allow IAEA experts to visit the Zaporizhzhya plant, and Russia’s defense minister reportedly spoke to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the situation at the plant.

Guterres has urged that a demilitarized zone be created around Zaporizhzhya in south-eastern Ukraine, near the battlefield of Russia’s five-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s bids came a day after 42 countries from around the world signed a statement calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Europe’s largest nuclear facility and saying their presence posed “a great danger”.

Kyiv and some Western leaders have accused Moscow of “nuclear blackmail” in its attacks on Ukrainian nuclear facilities, as well as its implied threats to use its nuclear arsenal if Ukrainian backers cross the Kremlin’s red lines.

In his nightly video address on August 15, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the international community must act to prevent an accident or other catastrophic events in Zaporizhzhya due to Russian actions.

“If the world doesn’t show strength and determination now to defend a nuclear power plant, it means the world has lost,” Zelenskyy said, according to Reuters. “It will lose to terrorism and give in to nuclear blackmail.”

Zelenskyy warned over the weekend that the recent shelling of the facility has increased the risk of a radiation leak. Russia does not deny it has troops stationed at the factory but has denied claims that it shelled the area. Instead, Moscow has accused Ukrainian forces of firing artillery shells there, which officials in Kyiv deny.

The situation at the plant has raised concerns among the United Nations and the IAEA. Both have said IAEA inspectors should be allowed to visit the facility.

“In close cooperation with the agency and its leadership, we will do everything necessary to allow IAEA specialists to appear on the station,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement on 08/15

Moscow later said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to Guterres about Zaporizhia’s security.

“Sergei Shoigu conducted telephone negotiations with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the conditions for the safe operation of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

It was not elaborated upon.

Guterres’ office did not immediately confirm the conversation or its content, and it was unclear whether Speaker Dujarric’s comments reflected a conversation with Shoigu.

On August 14th, the expression of 42 countries condemned Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and said the presence of Russian military forces at the facility prevented authorities from meeting their nuclear and radiation safety obligations.

“It is undeniable that the invasion of Russia and its continued presence in Ukraine’s nuclear facilities significantly increases the risk of nuclear incidents and accidents,” read the statement published on the European Union’s website.

“We urge the Russian Federation to immediately withdraw its armed forces and all other unauthorized personnel from the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, its immediate vicinity and all of Ukraine, so that the operator and the Ukrainian authorities resume their sovereign responsibilities within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine and authorized operations personnel can perform their duties without outside interference, threats or unacceptably harsh working conditions.

“The use of Russian military personnel and weapons at the nuclear facility is unacceptable and disregards the safety and security principles to which all members of the IAEA are committed,” the statement added.

This declaration was made on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Türkiye, United Kingdom, United States, and the European Union.

With coverage by AFP and Reuters

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