Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree claiming ownership of the embattled Zaporizhzhia power plant even as the head of Ukraine’s nuclear company said he would take over operations of Europe’s largest nuclear facility.
The announcement came hours after Putin signed laws annexing the Zaporizhzhia region. Earlier in the day, Energoatom chief Petro Kotin said he would run the Russian-owned plant from the capital Kyiv.
The plant has been at the center of deep global concern. Both sides blame each other for the bombings that have damaged parts of the plant and threaten to trigger a disaster, warn international nuclear experts.
“The need for a Nuclear Security Safety and Protection Zone (NSSPZ) around the #Zaporizhzhya NPP is now more urgent than ever,” tweeted Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Ukrainian director of the plant was kidnapped on Friday and freed this week by Russian forces occupying the plant. Ukrainian workers continue to operate the plant, which halted power generation last month.
►A former Russian state TV journalist accused of spreading false information after she staged an on-air anti-war protest said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that she had been released from house arrest . Marina Ovsyannikova’s ex-husband says she fled with her young daughter.
►Russian troops used six Iranian drones to strike the town of Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region, injuring one person, the Ukrainian presidential office said. The strikes were the first on the city since March, when the Russians withdrew from the area around the Ukrainian capital.
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Putin, ignoring international outrage and struggles of his armysigned laws on Wednesday ratify annexation of four Ukrainian regions, two of which constitute the crucial region of Donbass which he has targeted since the start of the war.
“I want the Kyiv authorities and their true masters in the West to hear me, so that everyone remembers this – the people of Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia become our citizens forever,” putin said.
The documents are vague on the boundaries of territory claimed by Russia, but Russian media said Putin annexed about 43,000 square miles. Ukraine, which is almost the size of Texas, estimates that around 15% of its territory has been annexed. Some of the land has already been taken over by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks, and most of the world does not recognize the annexations.
“The worthless decisions of the terrorist country are not worth the paper they are signed on,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on Telegram.
The Belarusian opposition leader said she believed Russian military setbacks in Ukraine could shake Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s grip on power. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told a security conference in Warsaw on Wednesday that Russia appears to be “on the verge of losing this war”. That could prevent Putin from backing Lukashenko, Putin’s closest global ally, she said.
Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania after Lukashenko claimed victory in the August 2020 election which was decried in the West as fraudulent.
Ukrainian troops have begun to chase Russian troops from the Luhansk region and are « raise the Ukrainian flag” in some settlements, regional governor Serhiy Haidai announced on social media. Russia had taken almost full control of the crucial province and seized half of neighboring Donetsk before the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive there a month ago About a third of Lugansk was controlled by Russians Militias supported before the war started Militia leaders tried to form the Lugansk People’s Republic, but only Russia and a few other nations recognized the republic .
The European Union, citing annexations, agreed on Wednesday to impose new sanctions on Russia, including an expected cap in Russian oil prices. Details of the sanctions are expected to be released as early as Thursday, but restrictions on European aircraft component exports to Russia and limits on Russian steel imports are expected to be included in the package.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the eighth round of sanctions, saying Europe was “determined to keep making the Kremlin pay” for invading Ukraine.
Contribute: The Associated Press