Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded that Russian forces unconditionally withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP), while warning that their actions could spark “catastrophe.”
Russian troops seized control of the Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest nuclear power facility in Europe, only weeks after the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. Despite being under Russian control, Ukrainian workers have continued to operate the plant during the war. Recent military activity at and near the plant has raised concerns of an impending nuclear disaster, with Ukraine accusing Russia of shelling the plant and engaging in “nuclear terrorism.”
A coalition of 42 countries including all European Union member states, the U.S. and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on Sunday demanding that Russia withdraw troops from the plant and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the facility. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement released on Monday that Russia will “do everything necessary to make it possible for IAEA specialists to appear at the station.”
In a televised address on Monday night, Zelensky accused Russia of engaging in “blackmail” and said that the plant was also being used as a base to store weapons and to launch attacks on neighboring areas.
“Russia does not stop its blackmail in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” Zelensky said. “Provocative shelling of the NPP territory continues. Under the cover of the plant, the occupiers are shelling nearby cities and communities. The Russian troops hide ammunition and equipment right in the facilities of the plant. De facto the plant is mined.”
“All this clearly shows that Russia is rejecting the security demands of the European Union countries and 15 other countries—42 in total—that called on Russia to withdraw its forces from the plant,” he continued. “If a terrorist state allows itself to completely ignore the demands of the international community, especially in such a sensitive topic, this clearly indicates the need for immediate action.”
Zelensky demanded that all Russian troops leave the plant immediately. He warned that the Russian “terrorists” would be responsible for “any radiation incident” at the plant, which would affect Europe and potentially countries in “more distant regions.”
“If Russia’s actions cause a catastrophe, the consequences may also hit those who remain silent so far,” said Zelensky. “All Russian troops must be immediately withdrawn from the plant and neighboring areas without any conditions.”
“If now the world lacks the strength and determination to protect one nuclear plant, it means that the world loses,” he added. “Loses to terrorists. Gives in to nuclear blackmail. And this may be a precedent that other terrorists will see. There is still a chance to prevent this defeat.”
Russia has denied shelling the plant and has instead accused Ukraine of being responsible for the attacks, insisting that Russian air defense forces are working to prevent a nuclear incident.
Russia’s state-run TV Channel One reported on Monday that the Zaporizhzhia plant had “become a target for missile and artillery strikes by the Ukrainian army,” arguing that “Western-made ammunition” had recently been fired at the plant.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian government for comment.