Signs of Another Humiliating Loss Send Russia Into Denial Mode
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According to Ukrainian authorities, Russian forces may be preparing to evacuate the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which Russia has occupied since the first months of the war this year.
Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said Sunday he believes Russian troops will abandon the power plant as Ukrainian forces continue to advance into occupied territories.
"Russian soldiers will leave Zaporizhia NPP as their defense line is gradually moving towards the borders of the Russian Federation," Podolyak said in an interview with Freedom TV.
Russian news outlets have also hinted at a possible withdrawal from the power plant, Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine's state-owned nuclear energy company Energoatom, said on Sunday.
"There are some indications that they will leave Zaporizhia NPP," Kotin said. "There were many publications in the Russian press saying that the Zaporizhia NPP could be abandoned and placed under IAEA control."
The crew of a nuclear power plant captured by Putin reveals their secrets
A withdrawal from the nuclear power plant could mean a significant loss for Russian forces, who have occupied the plant since March while Ukrainian workers continue to work there under threat of violence. Russian President Vladimir Putin this fall engineered a sham referendum and illegally annexed Zaporizhia to show Russian forces had gained complete control of the territory. In reality, the Kremlin wasn't sure which part of Zaporizhia Russia actually controlled and which parts it didn't.
Abandoning the power plant would be a major blow to Putin's invasion plan. Russia annexed other territories around the same time as Zaporizhia, but lost some of them soon after announcing that they were under Russian control. The possible withdrawal would add to a list of staggering losses in recent weeks, including Russia's withdrawal from Kherson and defeats also in the north-east of the country.
The Kremlin has denied leaving the power plant.
"There is no need to look for signs where they are not and cannot be," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to TASS on Monday.
Now, according to Interfax, Moscow is taking steps to bar Ukrainian power plant workers who have not yet signed contracts with Russian energy company Rosatom from entering the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
The move could raise questions about safe operations at the facility.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on a possible Russian withdrawal.
For months, Ukraine has accused Russia of using the nuclear power plant to terrorize civilians. Russia reportedly kidnapped several officials working at the power plant - officials whose absence has threatened the operational safety of the power plant, which is the largest in Europe. Other workers said they were abducted and violently interrogated. G7 leaders have condemned the "pressure exerted on the facility's staff".
The sinister Putin scheme revolves around the kidnapping at the nuclear power plant
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi met Rosatom Director-General Alexey Likhachev in Turkey earlier this month to discuss concerns about the nuclear power plant. Rossi stressed the importance of establishing a safe haven zone around the area, as Ukrainians and Russians have accused each other of targeting the facility.
The reactors are currently shut down but still need power for cooling and other safety functions, according to the IAEA.
Fighting for territory in Zaporizhia continued on Monday. According to an update from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Ukrainian forces damaged a bridge in the Zaporizhia region over which Russian forces were delivering military supplies. The Russians are also working to thwart Ukraine's progress, said Speaker of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Alexander Štupun.
"The occupiers are defending themselves in the direction of Zaporizhia," Štupun said on Monday.
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