Russian forces hand back Chernobyl to Ukraine – IAEA
Russian forces have begun leaving the defunct Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the major 1986 disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. Russia seized the facilities, in February, at the start of its military campaign in Ukraine.
The IAEA added that Russian forces also left the nearby city of Slavutych, where many of the plant’s staff live. The agency cited Ukraine as saying that some Russian troops were still present on site, but it was “presumed” that they were preparing to exit as well.
“Ukraine today informed the IAEA that the Russian forces that have been in control of Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) since 24 February had, in writing, transferred control of the NPP to Ukrainian personnel and moved two convoys of troops towards Belarus,” the Vienna-based agency reported on Thursday, using the Ukrainian name of the plant.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said the agency was in talks with Ukraine about dispatching a first assistance and support mission to Chernobyl “in the next few days.”
The plant’s management team published a document on social media which said that the Russians were transferring control over the facilities, including the main confinement site – a large hangar-like structure covering the exploded reactor that prevents further contamination – to its Ukrainian staff. The document appears to contain the signatures of the commander of the Russian National Guard unit tasked with protecting the plant, a representative of the Russian nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, and the leaders of the two shifts working at the plant on rotation.
Russia seized the plant and the surrounding areas during the advance on Kiev from the north. After peace talks in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow will “drastically reduce military activity” around the Ukrainian capital.
Moscow attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to regularize the status of the regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev says the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.