Russia is planning a “major provocation” at a nuclear power station it occupies in southeastern Ukraine to disrupt an impending counter-offensive, military intelligence in Kyiv has claimed.
A statement from the intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defense ministry said that Russian forces would attack the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
It would then report a radioactive leak to trigger an international probe that would stop the hostilities and give them the break they need to regroup.
To make that happen, Russia “interrupted the rotation of personnel in the permanent monitoring mission” of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scheduled for Saturday, the statement said. It offers no evidence to support any of the claims.
The IAEA said it had no immediate comment on the allegations and Russian officials did not immediately comment on the Ukrainian claims.
The White House said it was closely monitoring the situation and found no indication that radioactive material had been leaked.
It comes as Moscow’s military in Ukraine prepares for a looming counter-offensive by forces in Kyiv, which has not yet begun but could begin “tomorrow, the day after or in a week”, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, told the BBC.
He said the Kyiv government “has no right to make a mistake” in the decision because it is a “historic opportunity” that “we will not lose”.
The Zaporizhzhia station is one of the 10 largest nuclear plants in the world. It is located in the Zaporizhzhia region, in the southeastern part of the country
The plant’s six reactors have been shut down for months but still need power and qualified personnel to operate key cooling systems and other safety features.
Fighting near it has repeatedly disrupted power supplies and fueled fears of a potential disaster like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, where a reactor exploded in 1986 and released deadly radiation, that polluted a wide area.
In other developments on Saturday, Russia reported several attacks on its territory, with drones crashing in the western regions and areas bordering Ukraine under attack.
Two drones attacked an administrative building of an oil company in Russia’s western Pskov region that borders Belarus, Latvia and Estonia, Pskov governor Mikhail Vedernikov reported on Saturday.
The building was destroyed by an explosion, Mr Vedernikov said.
Another drone went down in the Tver region about 145km (90 miles) north of Moscow, local authorities said.
Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine came under several rounds of shelling on Saturday, killing one person, according to its governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.
In neighboring Kursk region, which also borders Ukraine, one person was killed by cross-border mortar fire, its governor Roman Starovoit said.
And a 60-year-old man was killed by Russian gunfire in the town of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region, about 32km (20 miles) from the Russian border, Ukraine’s national police said.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin, warned his country to “take action very seriously” in the conflict.
Mr Kelin told the BBC that Moscow had “huge resources” and the country was “16 times bigger than Ukraine.”
He said: “Sooner or later, of course, this development may take on a new dimension that we do not need and do not want. We will make peace tomorrow.”
In addition, the British military said on Saturday that Russia’s private military force, Wagner, was withdrawing from areas around the eastern town of Bakhmut that Moscow claimed it captured earlier this month.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin earlier this week announced the sacking, saying Wagner would hand over control of the devastated city to the Russian military. However, others are skeptical.
Mr Prigozhin was known for making unverifiable, headline-grabbing statements which he later retracted.
But Britain’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a series of tweets on Saturday that Wagner fighters “have probably started withdrawing from some of their positions” around Bakhmut.
“The Ukrainian deputy defense minister also confirmed the rotation out of Wagner forces in the outskirts of the town,” it added.
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