US says Russia’s use of ‘nuclear shield’ in Ukraine risks horrific accident

  • US says Russia is using a “nuclear shield”
  • The first grain ship to leave Ukraine
  • Ukraine says 22,000 Russian troops are ready to advance south
  • Foreign fighters enter Luhansk, says governor
  • Ukraine says it has recaptured 50 towns in Kherson

UNITED NATIONS/Kyiv (Kyiv) (Reuters) – The United States has accused Russia of using Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as a “nuclear shield” by deploying troops there and preventing Ukrainian forces from returning fire and risking a horrific nuclear accident.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States was “deeply concerned” that the Zaporizhzhya plant, which Russia accused of firing dangerous shells near in March, is now a Russian military base used to fire on nearby Ukrainian forces.

“Of course, the Ukrainians cannot respond for fear of a horrific accident involving the nuclear plant,” Blinken told reporters after nonproliferation talks at the United Nations in New York on Monday. Read more

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

At the New York talks, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tuchitsky said that “strong joint measures are needed to prevent a nuclear catastrophe” and called on the international community to “close the skies” over Ukrainian nuclear power plants with air defense systems.

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

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

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The first grain ship

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

Navigation is 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 conflict that has become a protracted war of attrition.

The Sierra Leone-flagged ship, the Razzoni, will head to the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, after passing through the Turkish Bosphorus Strait that connects the Black Sea, which is dominated by the Russian navy, with the Mediterranean. It transports 26,527 tons of corn.

But there are still hurdles to overcome before millions of tons of Ukrainian grain can leave its Black Sea ports, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for ships to safely enter the conflict zone and pick up cargo. Read more

The United Nations has warned of the risks of multiple famines this year due to the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, hopes to export 20 million tons of grain stored in silos and 40 million tons of the harvest now underway, initially from Odessa, Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk nearby, to help clean up the silos for the new crop.

Russia called Razouni’s departure “very positive” news, but denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions had slowed its exports and accusing Ukraine of planting underwater mines at its ports.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of planting the mines that are now floating around the Black Sea.

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In a sign of a worsening energy row between Russia and Europe, Russia said on Monday it had little it could do to help with urgent repairs to its Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, its main gas pipeline to Europe, after a further decline in Gazprom’s production and exports. Read more

Gas from Russia met about 40% of European needs before Russia sent its forces to Ukraine. Russia cut gas supplies via Nord Stream 1 to just 20% last week, saying a turbine sent to Canada for maintenance had not been returned and other equipment needed repair.

Russian progress

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

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

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Aristovich told media that about 22,000 Russian soldiers were preparing to advance in the cities of Kryvyi Rih and Mykolaiv, where a “large enough” Ukrainian force was waiting.

Yury Sobolevsky, deputy head of the ousted Kherson Regional Council, said that in the Kherson region, which is mostly under Russian control, Ukrainian forces liberated about 50 towns.

“Russian forces in the Kherson region suffer great losses,” Sobolevsky wrote on Telegram.

Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield report.

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

“We have noticed that more and more PMCs are entering the area – the Wagner Group,” Gaidai told Ukrainian television, adding that these irregulars were motivated by “money and looting.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said last week that Russia’s private military company Wagner was likely given responsibility for sections of the frontline in eastern Ukraine, possibly because Russia is facing a shortage of infantry.

Gaidai said the rebels destroyed infrastructure, including gas and water networks, in the devastated towns of Luhansk, to slow Russian forces.

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Reporting by Reuters offices. writing by Michael Berry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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