Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he has agreed to the parameters of a potential mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, after repeated shelling of the complex raised fears of a nuclear catastrophe.
Speaking at a news conference in Lviv on Thursday following a trilateral meeting with the Turkish president and the UN secretary-general, Zelenskyy said “only absolute transparency and control of the situation” by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), among other bodies, could guarantee nuclear safety.
It was not immediately clear if Russia would agree to the parameters.
The Ukrainian leader also reiterated a call for Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine and stop all military activity in the area.
Concerns about the plant mounted on Thursday when Russian and Ukrainian authorities accused each other of plotting to attack the site and then blame the other side.
Kyiv and Moscow have traded accusations about multiple recent incidents of shelling at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which Russian troops captured early in the war.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed worry about the flare-up of military activity in Zaporizhzhia. “We don’t want another Chernobyl,” he said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres also expressed grave concern about the situation at the plant and said it had to be demilitarised. “We must tell it like it is — any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide,” he said.
The secretary-general also called for the demilitarisation of the area around the vast nuclear power plant. “The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to reestablish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area,” he said.
IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi repeatedly called on both warring sides to cooperate in order to allow his agency to conduct a fact-finding mission and verify the plant’s safety.
Erdogan backs negotiations to end war
The meeting in Lviv is seen as an opportunity for the UN and Turkey to begin testing the waters about the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Kyiv and Moscow.
Erdogan, who was on his first visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, insisted the war should be resolved through diplomatic channels and renewed his offer to act as a mediator.
“We are ready to act as a facilitator or mediator towards the goal of reviving the negotiations,” he said. “What matters is to find the shortest and fairest way to the negotiating table.”
Zelenskyy ruled out peace with Russia unless it withdraws its troops from Ukraine.
Zelenskyy told reporters he was “very surprised” to hear from Erdogan that Russia was “ready for some kind of peace”, adding, “First, they should leave our territory and then we’ll see.”
Boosting grain exports before winter
Thursday’s talks, held near the Polish border, also addressed pressing concerns about the global food crisis triggered by the disruption of grain exports from Ukraine.
Developing countries have been hit particularly hard by shortages and high prices, and the UN has declared several African nations in danger of famine.
Guterres touted the success of a deal between Ukraine and Russia brokered by Turkey and the UN that led to exports resuming this month, but added that it would take time before its effects could be felt by “people at their local bakery and in their markets”.
“We will do our best to scale up our operations to face … the coming winter,” Guterres added.
Erdogan said they discussed the exchange of prisoners of war between Ukraine and Russia, and that he would later raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We attach great importance to this issue … of what happened to the exchange of these captives,” Erdogan said.
Earlier this month, Guterres launched a fact-finding mission into an incident in the front-line Ukrainian town of Olenivka in which prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists were killed.
Russia and Ukraine both requested an investigation.
Guterres said that the terms for the mission and the make up of the team had been shared with Russia and Ukraine, who both need to agree to it. He said he intended to appoint Brazilian General Carlos dos Santos Cruz to lead the inquiry.