In recent weeks, rescuers have been preparing for the worst with drills – Copyright AFP Dimitar DILKOFF
Dmitry GORSHKOV with Fuley OZERAN in Istanbul
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday offered to mediate a standoff over a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in war-torn Ukraine that has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.
In recent weeks, concern has increased over the shelling of the territory of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporozhye.
Ukraine on Friday said it bombed a Russian base in the nearby town of Energodar, destroying three artillery mounts and an ammunition depot.
On Saturday, Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “that Turkey can play the role of an intermediary in the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, as it did in the grain deal,” the Turkish president said.
Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, was forced to cut off nearly all supplies after Russia’s invasion in late February, raising fears of a global food crisis.
Grain exports through the Black Sea ports resumed after Kyiv and Moscow signed an agreement in July with the UN and Turkey acting as guarantors.
There was no direct mention that Erdogan also spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday to offer his mediation.
Last month, Erdogan warned of the danger of a nuclear holocaust when he visited Lviv for talks with the Ukrainian leader.
The Turkish leader said he wants to avoid “another Chernobyl,” referring to the world’s worst nuclear accident in another part of Ukraine in 1986, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.
A group of 14 people from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Zaporozhye this week, and Rafael Grossi, head of the UN Office for Nuclear Supervision, said the site had been damaged by the fighting.
Russia’s representative in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said six IAEA inspectors would stay there for a few days and two more would stay there “on a permanent basis.”
– “Gas weapon” –
The Russian invasion of pro-Western Ukraine has claimed the lives of thousands and forced millions to flee their homes.
The Western powers responded by sending military aid to Kyiv in an attempt to stop the Russian advance and imposing economic sanctions against Moscow.
On Friday, the G7 of the largest industrialized democracies pledged to take urgent action to cap the price of Russian oil imports, an important source of revenue for Moscow.
As if on cue, Russian gas giant Gazprom said it had suspended gas supplies to Germany indefinitely due to a leak in a turbine. Its German manufacturer has stated that this is not a valid reason to shut off the gas supply.
However, EU Economic Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said on Saturday that the European Union was “well prepared” for a complete shutdown of Russian gas supplies thanks to storage capacity and energy conservation measures.
“We are well prepared to counter Russia’s extreme use of gas weapons,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an economic forum hosted by the European House – Ambrosetti.
According to Gentiloni, in the European Union, “gas storage is currently around 80 percent thanks to supply diversification,” even if the situation varies from one country to another.
Ukraine has accused Russia of storing ammunition in Zaporozhye and stationing hundreds of soldiers there.
He also suspects that Moscow intends to divert electricity from the plant to the nearby Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.