The UN inspectors arrived on Wednesday at the area of the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, where they intend to establish a “permanent presence” in order to “avoid an accident” at the plant occupied by Russian troops.
“We are going to try to establish a permanent presence of the agency from that moment on,” said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear agency.
The objective, as detailed in the city of Zaporizhia (southern Ukraine), 50 kilometers from the plant, is “to avoid a nuclear accident and preserve this important nuclear power plant”, the largest in Europe, he added.
The area of the plant, occupied by Russian forces since March, just days after the start of the Ukraine invasion, has been the scene of recent bombings for which kyiv and Moscow blame each other.
Shortly before the arrival of the inspectors, the Ukrainian authorities accused Russia of new bombings in Energodar, the town where the plant is located.
The IAEA mission, made up of 14 inspectors, plans to access the plant on Thursday.
– ‘Stabilize the situation’ –
The nuclear plant is on the front line of the war, but IAEA inspectors have already received security guarantees from both sides to cross it, Grossi reported.
“These operations are very complex: we are going to a war zone, we are going to an occupied territory,” he stressed.
The mission of the verification body of the UN will spend “a few days” in the place and will report on its conclusions when it returns to its headquarters in Vienna.
“We have a very, very important mission to fulfill there, to assess the real situation, to help stabilize the situation as much as possible,” Grossi said in kyiv, before leaving for Zaporizhia.
– Counteroffensive in the south –
The visit coincides with an upsurge in fighting in the nearby Kherson region and in the Donbas mining basin (east).
Most of the Kherson region, on the shores of the Black Sea, and its capital of the same name were captured early in the conflict by Russian troops advancing from the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Ukrainian troops launched a counteroffensive on the southern front on Monday, a move predicted by analysts amid the stagnation of the conflict in Donbas, partly controlled by pro-Russian forces.
In Bereznehuvate, some 70 kilometers north of the city of Kherson, AFP reporters heard artillery fire and saw soldiers resting by the side of a road.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that Ukraine suffered a “defeat” in its counterattack in the south, losing 1,200 soldiers and 150 military vehicles.
– The EU tightens visa regime with Russia –
Defense ministers of the European Union (EU) began planning a training program for Ukrainian soldiers in Prague on Tuesday.
“There are many initiatives, but the needs are enormous,” said the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, hoping for “a general and global political agreement” on the matter.
More complicated is the consensus on a proposal to ban Russian travelers from entering EU countries.
The bloc’s foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to suspend a 2007 mechanism that made tourist visas easier for Russian citizens, though they did not move toward a broader ban.
In any case, the measure will make it “more difficult” and “longer” for Russian citizens to obtain permits to enter the EU, Borrell said.
“The issue of the limitation of European visas for Russian citizens must be resolved once and for all. I find it humiliating for Europe to be considered just a big store, or a big restaurant. Europe is first and foremost a territory of values, not of primitive consumption,” Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky commented in his late-night message.
Russia, for its part, is putting pressure on the EU by reducing its gas exports, which has caused a new spike in electricity prices.
Russia suspended from this Wednesday and for three days the supply of gas through the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which connects with Germany, alleging the performance of maintenance works.