US Says Russia Is Using ‘Nuclear Shield’ In Ukraine, Signals Huge Risk

The Russian-Ukrainian war killed thousands and displaced millions. (Reuters)

United Nations/Kyiv:

The United States said Russia was using Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as a “nuclear shield” by stationing troops there, preventing Ukrainian forces from retaliating and risking a terrible nuclear accident.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington is ‘deeply concerned’ that the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russia was accused of firing dangerously close shells at in March, is now a Russian military base used to fire on nearby Ukrainian forces.

“Of course the Ukrainians cannot retaliate for fear that there will be a terrible accident involving the nuclear power plant,” Blinken told reporters after the nuclear non-proliferation talks at the United Nations in New York on Monday.

Russia’s actions went beyond the use of a “human shield,” Blinken said, calling it a “nuclear shield.”

At the New York talks, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytskyi said “vigorous joint actions are needed to prevent a nuclear catastrophe” and called on the international community to “close the sky” on power plants Ukrainian nuclear weapons equipped with air defense systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 sparked the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, killing thousands, displacing millions and leaving large parts of Ukraine in ruins.

The war also caused a global food crisis, with Russia and Ukraine producing about a third of the world’s wheat, and Western sanctions against Russia, a major energy supplier to Europe, caused a global energy crisis.

FIRST GRAIN SHIPS

The first ship to carry Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea since Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago left the port of Odessa for Lebanon on Monday under a safe passage agreement.

The sailing was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertilizer export deal between Russia and Ukraine last month – a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a dispute that has become a long one. war of attrition.

The Razoni ship, flying the flag of Sierra Leone, will head for the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, after transiting through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait linking the Russian Navy-dominated Black Sea to the Mediterranean. It carries 26,527 tonnes of corn.

But there are still hurdles to overcome before millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain leave its Black Sea ports, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for ships to safely enter the conflict zone and recover the cargoes.

The UN has warned of the risk of multiple famines this year due to the war in Ukraine.

Known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain stored in silos and 40 million tonnes of the current harvest, initially from Odessa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk, to help clean the silos for the new crop.

Moscow called Razoni’s departure “very positive” but denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions have slowed its exports and accusing Ukraine of laying underwater mines at the entrance to its harbors.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of laying the mines that now float around the Black Sea, drifting away from Ukraine’s shores, with Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish military dive teams defusing those that end up in their waters.

RUSSIAN ADVANCEMENT

Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special operation” to demilitarize its neighbor. Ukraine and Western nations dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

After failing to capture the capital Kyiv at the start of the war, Russia is now aiming to capture the eastern region of Donbass, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk, partially occupied by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion, and to capture more the south, having already annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in an online interview that about 22,000 Russian troops were preparing to advance on the towns of Kriviy Rih and Mykolaiv, where a “sufficiently large” Ukrainian force was waiting.

In the Kherson region, which is mostly under Russian control, Ukrainian troops have liberated about 50 towns, said Yuri Sobolevsky, deputy head of the deposed Kherson regional council.

“Russian troops in the Kherson region are suffering considerable losses. Now there are more than 300 of them in a military hospital that the Russians have set up in a civilian hospital in the city of Beryslav,” Sobolevsky wrote on Telegram. “About 40 doctors were brought from Russia to equip the hospital.”

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield report.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, which is almost entirely under Russian control, said foreign fighters were arriving.

“We noticed that more and more private military companies were coming to the area — the Wagner Group,” Gaidai told Ukrainian television, adding that these irregular forces were motivated by “money and looting.”

The Russian private military company Wagner has likely been given responsibility for specific frontline sectors in eastern Ukraine, perhaps as Russia faces a severe shortage of combat infantry, the UK Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update on Friday.

Gaidai said partisans were destroying key infrastructure, including gas and water networks, in the battered towns of Luhansk to slow down Russian forces.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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