(Kyiv) The attack in the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine and Europe overnight raised fears of a disaster on the ground and raised the tone against Moscow, with Washington citing a “threat to Europe and the world” .
“Thank God, the world escaped a nuclear catastrophe” in the night, added the American ambassador, calling this attack “irresponsible” and “dangerous”. ” Not only [Vladimir Poutine] has not heeded” calls to stop its invasion of Ukraine, “but we have just witnessed a new dangerous escalation which poses an immense threat to all of Europe and the world”, the diplomat said.
“It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” tweeted the American embassy in Kyiv – which left the Ukrainian capital due to the conflict – after the night attack on the Zaporozhye site.
Asked by AFP whether Washington openly accused Moscow of having perpetrated such a war crime prohibited by the Geneva Convention, the US State Department was a little more cautious.
“Intentionally targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants, is a war crime, and we are studying the circumstances of this operation,” said a spokesman for American diplomacy.
“But, beyond its legality, this act was the height of irresponsibility, and the Kremlin must cease all operations near nuclear infrastructure,” he added.
His Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia, dismissed Ukraine and Western claims that Moscow was responsible for the attack, calling them “lies”. They are “part of a campaign of lies” against Moscow, he asserted.
The Russian diplomat also assured that Ukraine was responsible for the fire which then broke out at the Zaporijjia nuclear site in southern Ukraine.
Vassily Nebenzia, however, acknowledged that fighting involving Russian soldiers was taking place in the area concerned. But he spoke of exchanges of fire between “light weapons” which did not, according to him, include bombardments. He claimed that the security of the nuclear site was assured, asking Westerners to “calm down”.
The Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, in a new tense exchange with his Russian counterpart, asked him to “stop telling lies”. “Are you in contact with your capital? he asked, surprised at the assertions made by the Russian ambassador.
Ukrainian nuclear safety inspectors are “being denied access” to the Zaporijjia nuclear site, denounced the Ukrainian diplomat.
Sergiy Kyslytsya said he formally requested in a letter to the UN to establish a no-fly zone for his country, reaffirming that “residential areas were reduced to ruins” and that “peaceful civilians were killed”.
Due to Russia’s right of veto in the Security Council, there is no chance for this body to establish such a no-fly zone, already excluded by NATO.
On Friday, the Russian army occupied the Zaporozhye power station where its artillery strikes, according to the Ukrainians, caused a fire – which Moscow denies being the cause.
At the start of the morning, the Ukrainian authorities indicated that the fire, which affected a laboratory and a training building, had been extinguished and that no radioactive leak had been detected.
The information has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that no “essential” equipment was damaged.
But this fire has contributed to the growing anxiety of Westerners in the face of a conflict that is now engulfing the whole of Ukraine, with an increasingly long list of bombarded cities, on the ninth day of the Russian invasion.
“This is the first time that a military conflict has taken place in a country with a large nuclear program,” added Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA.
This represented “an immense threat for all of Europe and the world”, reacted on Friday to the UN Security Council meeting in emergency the American ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Russia denies responsibility for the attack
In Moscow, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov accused “groups of Ukrainian saboteurs with the participation of mercenaries” of starting the fire at the plant.
Russia did not attack the Ukrainian nuclear site of Zaporozhye, it is a “lie”, hammered the Russian ambassador to the UN Security Council Vassili Nebenzia.
But the foreign ministers of the G7 countries have already announced in a joint communiqué that they will “impose new severe sanctions in response to Russian aggression”.
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that the EU stood ready to adopt “severe new sanctions if Putin does not stop the war he started”.
Insisting on the need to “put an end” to this conflict, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the Atlantic Alliance could not respond to the request for the creation of a no-fly zone, to avoid get drawn into the conflict.
Zaporozhe, located on the Dnieper River about 550 km southeast of Kyiv, has a total capacity of almost 6,000 megawatts, enough to supply electricity to around four million homes. It was inaugurated in 1985, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.
On February 24, fighting had already taken place near the former Chernobyl power plant, about a hundred kilometers north of Kyiv, now in the hands of Russian troops.
” A hell ”
Elsewhere on the pitch, the pressure continued.
Fighting continued in Cherniguiv, north of Kyiv, where Ukraine accused Moscow of bombing a residential area and schools on Thursday, killing 47 according to a new report.
Shots were heard in Boutcha, northwest of the capital, where destroyed Russian armor was visible. To the east, smoke rose from bombed warehouses, AFP photographers could see.
Some 350 km east of Kyiv, the situation has also become “hell” in Okhtyrka, and it is “critical” in Sumy, according to the authorities.
As for the strategic port of Mariupol, in the south-east, where the mayor accused Thursday the Russian forces of wanting to establish “a blockade”, the humanitarian situation is “terrible” after 40 hours of uninterrupted bombardments, including on schools and hospitals, the city’s deputy mayor Sergei Orlov told the BBC.
On Friday morning, at the UN Human Rights Council, a resolution in favor of an international commission of inquiry into violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Ukraine was voted by an overwhelming majority.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city 50 km from the Russian border (northeast), Russian forces used cluster munitions, the use of which could constitute a war crime “in at least three neighborhoods homes” on February 28, accused the American organization Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russian soldiers of “raping women in occupied Ukrainian cities”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured that Russian forces are not bombing Kyiv and major Ukrainian cities, calling reports of the destruction carried out by Moscow a “gross propaganda fabrication”.
A third round of negotiations with Russia is looming for this weekend, said one of the Ukrainian negotiators, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the head of the presidential administration.
But the dialogue is only possible if “all Russian demands” are accepted, however warned the Russian president.
He repeated that he demanded a “neutral and non-nuclear” status for Ukraine, its “compulsory demilitarization” and its “denazification”, recognition of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia and “sovereignty”. pro-Russian separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon official announced that “equipment in the amount of $240 million, including some of the most critical equipment like anti-armor equipment,” had been handed over to Ukrainian forces “in multiple locations.”
The Ukrainian people continue to help the war effort as best they can.
In Kyiv, Ksenia Pavliuk has led a team of 30 volunteers who ensure the delivery of international aid throughout the city for civilians, soldiers and members of self-defense militias.
In Lviv (west), with some tutorials found on the internet, and rails dating from the Austro-Hungarian Empire recovered from right to left, Tarass Filipchak and his friends set about making anti-tank obstacles.
In Russia, the Kremlin has at the same time hardened its repression of all dissenting voices in the face of the conflict.
Since the beginning of the offensive on February 24, arrests, closures of the few remaining independent media and new repressive texts have followed, while the Kremlin and the major Russian media present the conflict as “a special military operation” and banish the word “invasion”.
On Friday, the Russian authorities restricted access to the sites of several independent media: the local edition of the BBC, the German international radio and television Deutsche Welle, the independent site Meduza (based in Riga), Radio Svoboda, Russian branch of RFE/ RL, Voice of America.
Vladimir Putin has signed a law previously passed by Russian MPs, providing up to 15 years in prison for anyone publishing “false information” that would have “serious consequences” for the armed forces.
The ripple effects of this conflict continued to escalate.
More than 1.2 million refugees have already fled Ukraine, according to the latest UN count.
The G7 countries called on Friday for the “rapid” establishment of humanitarian corridors in Ukraine to facilitate the evacuation of civilians and allow access for UN “aid organizations” and “medical personnel”.
It was not yet known whether these corridors, which Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed to organize during a second round of negotiations, were being put in place.
The stock markets, in several places from Asia to Europe, fell on Friday.
Paris fell 4.97% to 6061.66 points, completing its worst week since the announcement of the first confinement in 2020, Frankfurt dropped 4.41% and Milan 6.24%, its worst day since March 2020. the week they lose more than 10% each.
Another sign of excitement in Europe, the single currency has fallen below the symbolic threshold of 1.10 dollars for one euro, a level not seen since the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
European natural gas has exceeded 200 euros per megawatt hour, a first.