Military activity near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine has raised fears of a Chernobyl scenario. The UN Secretary-General is meeting with Ukraine’s president to discuss the situation — but threatening nuclear disaster is a tool Putin has used before.
Of the 16 nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union, four were built in Ukraine. Until recently, the most infamous of these was Chernobyl. But now, all eyes are on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, Zaporizhzhia, located in the south of Ukraine. The plant has become the new center of war in Ukraine since it was captured by Russia on March 4. Its workers are still held hostage.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and its 15 reactors have been under occupation since April. It has effectively become a military base for the Russian army. Armored vehicles are deployed there, and missiles and artillery are launched from the territory of the nuclear plant.
Ukraine cannot respond to these attacks without risking catastrophe — something Putin knows very well, as he is once again weaponizing the threat of nuclear disaster to help his invasion.
Potentially disastrous consequences for Ukraine
On Aug. 15, Eugene Kramarenko, head of the Ukrainian state agency for the management of the Chernobyl zone, said that in case of an accident at the Zaporizhzhia plant, the predicted area of damage could be close to 30,000 square kilometers. Zaporizhzhia currently contains about 18,000 liquid fuel assemblies, which is 10 times more than Chernobyl at the time of its nuclear accident in 1986.
In the event of a nuclear disaster, close to two million square kilometers could be potentially radioactively contaminated.Russia has claimed that Ukraine is shelling its own nuclear power plant, but these allegations are illogical given the potentially devastating consequences for Ukraine itself.
On March 4, Russian shellings hit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, causing one of its buildings to catch fire.
Another pawn in Putin's playbook
Instead, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has become another pawn in Putin’s playbook of intimidation and manipulation. Back in February, Putin put Russia’s nuclear weapons on high alert.Ukraine, the U.S. or Britain. Putin himself at the time said, "We will go to heaven as martyrs, and they will just die."
Putin will not give up his advantage easily
But even though Putin has invaded a sovereign state and violated international laws, many political leaders still (somewhat naively) believe that Putin is bluffing and can be negotiated with.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian president in Lviv today to address the threat hanging over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
As long as the war is still ongoing, Ukraine has been asking to close the sky over the country. Such requests have so far proved unsuccessful. But Zelensky is expected to ask for help protecting at least the Zaporizhzhia area as well as push for further sanctions to help drive Putin out of the nuclear power plant territory.
In the minds of Putin and the fanatics who support him, the threat of nuclear war is real enough.
But we can already predict the outcome of this meeting. Guterres will voice his acute concern and call on the parties to the conflict to cooperate in preventing an accident at the facility. But nothing will happen, because this situation was much easier to prevent than to resolve.
This war cannot end at the negotiating table, only on the battlefield. Almost all world leaders and experts have already come to this sad conclusion.
Nuclear threat plays into Russia's hands, making Ukraine and the whole world fear Putin’s decisions. This is not an advantage Putin is expected to give up easily.