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10 Mar, 2022 16:20

Lavrov meets UN nuclear watchdog boss amid Ukraine crisis

Russia’s top diplomat has discussed the security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants with the head of the IAEA
Lavrov meets UN nuclear watchdog boss amid Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in the Turkish resort city of Antalya on Thursday.

“Sergey Lavrov and IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi discussed the issues related to physical protection and functioning of nuclear power facilities amid the special military operation in Ukraine,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The meeting followed talks between Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba. The top diplomats discussed the ongoing hostilities between the two countries yet failed to achieve any meaningful result. “Nobody was negotiating it here in the first place,” Lavrov said after the talks, while Kuleba described the negotiations as “difficult.”

According to Kuleba, the Russian side has proposed to hold trilateral talks with the IAEA to discuss the situation around Ukrainian nuclear power plants, yet the idea was brushed off by the Ukrainians.

“Lavrov spoke in favor of holding trilateral consultations with the participation of IAEA experts, Ukrainian and Russian nuclear scientists. But I told him that before the arrival of Russian soldiers on the territory of Ukraine, everything was fine with our nuclear facilities, with our nuclear power plants,” Kuleba told reporters.

Ukraine’s top diplomat held a separate meeting with the IAEA chief, telling reporters afterwards that Russian troops should withdraw from Ukrainian nuclear power plants “immediately” in order to “prevent disasters in Europe.”

Russia has seized control of two out of four Ukrainian nuclear power plants amid the ongoing offensive launched by Moscow in late February. Moscow has outlined the goals of the operation as “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” the country, as well as protecting the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Kiev, however, insisted the attack was unprovoked and denied claims it had been planning to retake the splinter republics by force.

Russian troops now control the Chernobyl facility, crippled during the 1986 disaster, as well as the operational Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant. Both sides of the conflict have accused each other of acting recklessly around the facilities, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even blaming Moscow for “nuclear terrorism” over skirmishes at the Zaporozhskaya plant. The fighting left an administrative building in the immediate vicinity of the plant damaged, while its heavily reinforced reactors were not affected.

Russia, in turn, accused Ukrainian far-right nationalist paramilitaries of deliberately attacking and disabling a substation powering the Chernobyl complex, which had its emergency power supply systems activated. The loss of power supply by the station has been acknowledged by the IAEA. However, it said that this “would not have a critical impact on essential safety functions at the site, where various radioactive waste management facilities are located.”

Currently, Russia is working together with neighboring Belarus to restore power supply to the Chernobyl facility, according to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The plant is connected to Belarus by an old disused Soviet-era power line, which is set to be restored as a “temporary” solution to ensure an uninterrupted electricity supply to the facility.