Leaders of Ukraine, U.N. seek to secure Russian-held nuclear plant

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The U.N. chief and the presidents of Turkey and Ukraine have discussed ways to end the war started by Russia and secure Europe’s largest nuclear power station, as Russia and Ukraine traded accusations of new shelling near the plant.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters after talks in Lviv, Ukraine, on Thursday he was gravely concerned about circumstances at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and called for military equipment and personnel to be withdrawn.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he, Guterres and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed building on a recent positive atmosphere to revive peace negotiations with Russia that took place in Istanbul in March.

In a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in July for Russia to lift a blockade of Ukrainian grain shipments, and exports resumed at the beginning of August.

NATO member Turkey has maintained good relations with Russia, an important trade partner, and sought to mediate in the conflict, which began six months ago when Russian forces invaded neighbouring Ukraine.

“Personally, I maintain my belief that the war will ultimately end at the negotiating table. Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Guterres have the same opinion in this regard,” Erdogan said.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

At the same time, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is readying about $800 million of additional military aid to Ukraine and could announce it as soon as Friday, three sources familiar with the matter said.

FEARS OF NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE

Russia says its aim in Ukraine is to demilitarise the country and protect Russian-speakers on land that President Vladimir Putin says historically belongs to Russia.

Ukraine and the West call it an unprovoked war of conquest. Ukraine shook off Russian domination when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Guterres reiterated calls for demilitarisation around the nuclear plant.

“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to re-establish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said.

Russia, which captured the plant in southern Ukraine soon after the Feb. 24 invasion, said it could shut it down, which Ukraine warned would increase the risk of a nuclear catastrophe.

Russia had earlier rejected as “unacceptable” international calls for a demilitarised zone. Ukrainian engineers are still operating the plant despite the Russian occupation.

The power station sits on the Russian-controlled south bank of a huge reservoir in Enerhodar; Ukrainian forces hold the north bank. Russia and Ukraine traded accusations through the night of shelling civilian areas near the power station, as they have done for days.

Ukraine also accuses Russia of using the plant as a shield for its forces to launch strikes across the reservoir on Ukrainian-held cities, which Russia denies.

Reuters cannot independently confirm the military situation in the area or the responsibility for shelling.

Zelenskiy said after meeting Guterres that they had agreed parameters for a possible mission to the plant by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Russia should immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as well as stopping any provocations and shelling,” Zelenskiy said.

Source: Reuters