Nuclear dangers are rising in southern Ukraine. Top diplomats from the United Nations, France, and the U.S. State Department are urgently calling for a demilitarized zone around southeastern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which has been illegally occupied by Russian forces since early March.
The Zaporizhzhia plant is Europe’s largest nuclear facility, but Russian forces staged there have been firing on Ukrainian troops for several weeks. On Thursday, representatives from the two nations (Vladimir Rogov and Yevgeniy Balitsky for the Russian side, and Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom on behalf of Kyiv) each accused the other of firing on the nuclear plant, potentially triggering a catastrophe for the entire region. Reuters published a sort of explainer on the plant that you can find here.
“I am calling for all military activities in the immediate vicinity of the plant to cease immediately and not to target its facilities or surroundings,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres in a statement Thursday. “Any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia or any other nuclear facilities in Ukraine,” he said, “could lead to catastrophic consequences not only for the immediate vicinity, but for the region and beyond. This is wholly unacceptable.”
“I urge the withdrawal of any military personnel and equipment from the plant and the avoidance of any further deployment of forces or equipment to the site,” Guterres said. “The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area.”
“Fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous and irresponsible,” a State Department spokesperson said Thursday, according to Reuters, and added, “We continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine, and support Ukrainian calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear power plant.”
Paris agrees: “Russia control of Ukrainian nuclear facilities is a danger to the Ukrainian people, the region and the international community,” said France’s Foreign Ministry in its own statement Thursday. “Russia must hand back to Ukraine the full control of Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant and of all nuclear facilities to Ukraine,” said French Amb. Nathalie Broadhurst at the UN Security Council on Thursday. She joined Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael MarianoGrossi, in his call for IAEA officials to have “safe and unhindered access to all nuclear facilities in Ukraine,” as Broadhurst put it.
“An [IAEA] mission would allow us to carry out needed technical activities and provide a stabilizing influence,” said MarianoGrossi on Thursday. “Military actions jeopardizing nuclear safety and security must stop immediately,” he cautioned.
The view from Kyiv: Russia is conducting “nuclear blackmail,” said Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy in his nightly address Thursday. Only a full withdrawal of Russian forces from the facility will “guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe,” he said.
Coverage continues below…
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Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1960, NASA launched its first successful communications satellite, Echo 1A, after an earlier failed attempt in mid-May—and three years after the Soviets sent Sputnik 1 into low Earth orbit for the very first time.
New to Ukraine’s military: A few more British-provided M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. “Our [Ukrainian army] will skillfully use this ‘replenishment’ at the battlefield,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted Friday morning, and added, “P.S. More ‘gifts’ will arrive soon.”
The Dutch and Norwegians just joined a growing list of nations training Ukrainian forces inside the U.K., Reznikov said Friday as well. That list also includes the Brits, of course; the Kiwis; Canadians; Finns; Swedes; and Danish military trainers.
And on the Russian side, entire units are allegedly disappearing—like the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, part of Moscow’s 35th Combined Arms Army. They appear to have “likely been destroyed in combat, possibly as part of an intentional Kremlin effort to conceal the war crimes it committed in Kyiv Oblast,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War write, citing a recent report from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Mark Krutov.
What do Ukrainians think of their defense against Russia’s invasion so far? A whopping 98% of those polled by the International Republican Institute in June said they believe Ukraine will win the war; 91% approve of President Zelenskyy’s performance; and 72% support joining NATO, which is a 13-point rise from April. Much more in that dataset, published Thursday, here.
- “‘Don’t treat our children like dogs!’ Russia’s military prosecutor’s hacked archive reveals true state of affairs at the front,” via Bellingcat and the Insider, reporting Friday;
- “Erdogan and Putin: Complicated Relations With Mutual Benefits,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday from Brussels;
- “From the Workshop to the War: Creative Use of Drones Lifts Ukraine,” also from the Times, reporting Wednesday from the eastern city of Pokrovske;
- “Ukraine Scrapes to Pay Its Soldiers as Western Funds Slow to Arrive,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Friday from Kyiv;
- “Kazakhstan to start oil sales via Azeri pipeline to bypass Russia,” Reuters reported Friday;
- “Portugal: EU eyes Iberia-Italy pipeline to get gas to Europe,” the Associated Press reported Friday from Lisbon;
- And “Crimea blasts significantly hit Russian navy – UK,” via the BBC, reporting Friday off the British military’s latest Ukrainian assessment.
Meanwhile in the U.S. military: The Feres Doctrine—which bans troops from suing the federal government for injuries—does not apply in the case of the U.S. Army colonel who accused former Air Force Gen. John Hyten of sexual assault, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday. Hyten and his legal team had tried to have Kathryn Spletstoser’s civil case against him thrown out, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the “alleged sexual assault [could] not conceivably serve any military purpose,” Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.
Details: The court said the time and location of the alleged assault—at a civilian hotel in California, during off-duty hours—contributed to the ruling, and noted, “It is unimaginable that plaintiff would have been ‘under orders’ to submit to Hyten’s sexual advances, or that she was performing any sort of military mission in conjunction with the alleged assault.” The court was only considering whether the civil suit can continue, not whether an assault occurred.
The decision “has the potential to open the door for thousands of military sexual assault survivors to fight back and seek the compensation they are rightfully owed,” Don Christensen, president of advocacy group Protect Our Defenders and former chief prosecutor of the Air Force, said in a written statement. “I hope that this represents an important first step in expanding the currently limited options for military sexual assault survivors.”
Read more: “Military sexual assault survivors should be able to sue for damages, judges rule,” via Military Times, reporting Thursday.
China just sanctioned a Lithuanian official for visiting Taiwan, Reuters reported Friday from Beijing. Lithuanian Deputy Transport and Communications Minister Agne Vaiciukeviciute is the one who has drawn the ire of Chinese Communist Party officials after she dropped by three cities on the island and two seaports over a five-day period. Her goal was to find “more ways of [Lithuanian] transport cooperation with [Taiwan’s] maritime, shipping and aviation companies,” she tweeted Friday.
Fellow Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia just dropped out of a “Chinese-backed forum aimed at boosting relations with Eastern European countries,” AP reported Friday from Beijing. The organization was known somewhat bluntly as the Central and Eastern European Countries and China, and its members still include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
China’s foreign ministry is still defending its military drills near Taiwan in remarks to reporters Friday in Beijing. “China has every right to take resolute countermeasures in response to the U.S. provocations,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin, “and such measures are absolutely necessary under those circumstances…to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
For your ears only: Get smarter about regional security around southeast Asia with our latest Defense One Radio podcast, which features our colleague Caitlin Kenney, who recently returned from Hawaii for “the largest international maritime exercise in the world.”
We also spoke to Collin Koh, research fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, who cautioned Westerners against downplaying the economic ties binding regional players to Taiwan—and how no one wants a conflict to erupt over the island or the strait.
And we ended with a discussion about a recent Taiwan-focused wargame with Becca Wasser, fellow for the Defense Program and lead of the Gaming Lab at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, D.C. Listen on Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!