Starting a week ago the United States led the way at a United Nations Security Council special meeting in calls for a demilitarized zone around Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, but on Thursday Russia's defense ministry has again rejected such a possibility. Starting weeks ago Ukraine said that some 500 Russian troops occupied the nuclear power plant, which is Europe's largest.
Amid tit-for-tat accusations of shelling on the facility and thus putting the sensitive site in danger of a nuclear incident, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said this week he stands ready to lead a delegation in person to inspect the plant. However, it's being reported that the Russian side has rejected this possibility, saying such a mission would be too dangerous as Ukraine is shelling it.
At the same time, on Thursday, Russia's defense ministry has issued its most ominous and alarming claim yet regarding the deteriorating situation at Zaporizhzhia, alleging that Ukraine is currently engaged in plotting a "false flag provocation" and that any resulting catastrophe will be immediately blamed on Moscow.
Taking the allegation further, a military spokesman even named a date, Friday Aug.19, as the day it's expected to happen according to the Kremlin. "Russia will be blamed for the man-made catastrophe," the MoD spokesman warned.
However, Ukraine and its Western allies have charged that it is in reality Russian troops that are using the plant as a nuclear shield and so bear responsibility for any potentially disastrous consequences.
At this point, both sides are in essence charging the other with "nuclear blackmail" - with Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also echoing the fresh military allegations of a Ukrainian "provocation" in the works.
Ominous. Russia’s defence spox claims Ukraine is planning a “false flag provocation” in Zaporizhzhia (Enerhodar) power station for Aug 19. “Russia will be blamed for the man-made catastrophe,” he warns. In reality, Russia is using the plant as a nuclear shield. pic.twitter.com/vd7DEz3XqY— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) August 18, 2022
"This is not just a provocation, this is what we condemned as nuclear blackmail. And what else is it but a long standing provocation around a nuclear facility, a direct threat to nuclear power. This is certainly an act of nuclear blackmail," Zakharova said in a televised briefing.
"We are talking about nuclear energy, the whole European continent is being held hostage because this is all in the heart of Europe," she added.
Meanwhile, the escalatory rhetoric is only ratcheting as the showdown continues:
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY: THE USE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS IS ONLY POSSIBLE AS A RESPONSE AND IN EMERGENCY CIRCUMSTANCES
"Today, science has already shown us that consequences of man-made disasters, and different tragedies at nuclear facilities have no boundaries, they only have time limits. Only time can limit the spread of these consequences," the Zakharova concluded.
Ukraine for its part is demanding critical information from the Russian side as to the plant's technical status. Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said of the dire need for a direct IAEA inspection, "They need to give some technical estimation on what is happening because we just don't have concrete information on what is happening inside."