The UN Security Council will meet in an emergency session on Tuesday afternoon at the request of Russia to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, where fighting in the vicinity has raised the risk of a nuclear accident.
Russia and Ukraine blame each other for attacks in and around Zaporozhye, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, including recent shelling that came dangerously close to the reactors. The Russian military took control of the site in March, but Ukrainian technicians still operate the facility.
With US intelligence agencies warning that Russia may redouble attacks to coincide with Wednesday’s six-month anniversary of its invasion, which also happens to be Ukraine’s Independence Day, the fighting over the nuclear plant looms as one of the gravest risks in the protracted conflict. Hostilities in the south are intensifying as Russia tries to strengthen its defensive positions in the territories it has seized and Ukraine tries to mount a counter-offensive.
António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, said the situation around the Zaporizhia facility was “critical” and warned of a catastrophic nuclear accident if the plant and its surroundings were not demilitarized. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been demanding safe access for its inspectors since at least June. It remains unclear when or if Russia or Ukraine will grant access.
In an overnight speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of “messing” with international bodies and attacked Moscow for having “the audacity to convene the UN Security Council to discuss its own provocations”.
Russia is expected to base its arguments on Tuesday on a letter its UN mission sent to council members last week. In the letter, Russia claimed without evidence that Ukraine was attacking the Zaporozhye power plant and that the United States and Ukraine were planning to cause a minor accident there that they would blame on Russia.
Russia has made similar allegations to the Security Council about chemical and biological attacks. The United States and Ukraine have dismissed the allegations as baseless.
The letter said that since July 18, Ukrainian armed forces have systematically shelled the nuclear power plant with rocket launchers, damaging the on-site auxiliary support system and life support, according to a copy of the document posted on the Twitter account of the Russian mission to the United Nations.
The meeting on Tuesday is a day before a planned meeting requested by the United States and European members to mark six months since the start of the Russian invasion.
Mr Guterres is due to brief the council on his recent trip to Ukraine on Wednesday. And UN officials and some diplomats are expected to condemn the Russian invasion and the ongoing humanitarian disaster.