Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree that places Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant under the involuntary control of the Russian state – and changes the country’s constitution by admitting new regions into the Russian Federation.
The annexation of Zaporizhzhia and three other regions is illegal under international law and has been widely condemned by the international community.
Despite international opposition to the move, Putin also tasked the cabinet with determining how to regulate and operate the Zaporizhzhia plant – which has been under Russian military control by force since March – until 2028.
Just as Putin was signing the decree, Ukraine’s state nuclear operator Energoatom said its president would take over as the plant’s general manager.
Petro Kotin, President of Energoatom, said in a video address to the employees of the plant: “In accordance with the current legislation, approval and regulatory documents, I have decided to take up the position of general manager of the plant. nuclear Zaporizhzhia. ”
He said the factory’s administration would be transferred directly to Kyiv following the detention by Russian officials of the factory’s general manager, Ihor Murashov. On Tuesday, the IAEA said Murashov would not continue with his duties at the nuclear power plant following his release from Russian custody.
Kotin also noted that operational issues at the plant would be resolved by technical staff in agreement with the company’s central office.
IAEA response: The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, was in Kyiv on Thursday to discuss his calls to establish a nuclear safety zone around the plant “as soon as possible”, the IAEA said in a statement. Grossi will also travel to Russia in the coming days.
Grossi told a news conference it was still unclear what the ‘practical consequences’ of Russia’s decision to seize the plant were, but he would discuss the issues in high-level meetings in Moscow. He also said the IAEA is considering the Ukrainian facility.
“We want this war to end. The war must end immediately. The IAEA’s position is that this facility is a Ukrainian facility, but I’m not going into commentary on military developments,” Grossi said.
“For us it is obvious that since this is a Ukrainian facility, the ownership (sic) belongs to Energatom,” Grossi said, referring to Ukraine’s nuclear agency. “We are an international agency and we are guided by international law. And as you all know very well, annexations are not accepted by international law.
A bit of context: The Zaporizhzhia factory has come under intense scrutiny since its occupation shortly after the Russian invasion in late February. Intense Russian shelling near the facility this summer sparked concerns of a nuclear accident, prompting the International Atomic Energy Agency send a team.
The nuclear power plant, with six reactors, is the largest in Europe. It continues to be run by Ukrainian technicians, but the forced annexation of Zaporizhzhia means that according to Russian law it is now on Russian territory.