Ukraine Latest: IAEA Chief Warns of ‘Real’ Nuclear Disaster Risk

·10 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The head of the UN’s atomic agency warned of “potentially catastrophic consequences” in its first response to shelling Friday around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Ukraine said Russia targeted the facility, calling it “an act of terror.” Moscow said Kyiv was behind the incident and that it would complain to the UN.

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More grain ships left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday, and two are headed inbound toward Chornomorsk from Turkey. But finding shipowners ready to put their vessels in harm’s way remains a challenge.

Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan held four hours of talks Friday, as Ankara pushes for a mediating role to try to help end the war in Ukraine following its breakthrough deal on grain exports. Erdogan told reporters he’s ready to host a Zelenskiy-Putin meeting.

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Key Developments

  • Russia, Ukraine Trade Blame Over Shelling Near Nuclear Plant

  • Ukraine Blasts Watchdog Claim That Its Army Endangers Civilians

  • Grain Corridors Still Need Ships to Ease Food Crisis

  • US, Russia Ready to Talk on Prisoner Swap After Griner Convicted

  • Putin, Erdogan Stress Trust, Pledge Deeper Ties at Summit Talks

  • Ukraine Shores Up Reserves, Helped by Devaluation and Aid

On the Ground

Well into the conflict’s sixth month, Ukraine is forcing Russia to reallocate forces and re-prioritize efforts in response to Kyiv’s counteroffensive operations. Russian forces in the past 24 hours pursued an offensive aimed at seizing key locations in Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday. Russian artillery and aviation struck targets in the direction of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, it said on Facebook. Artillery fire also hit various locations in the direction of Slovyansk, the general staff of the Ukrainian army said. Mykolaiv in Ukraine’s south continued to be shelled by rockets and artillery overnight and on Saturday, the head of the regional council Hanna Zamazeyeva said on national television. Three people were killed and 15 injured, she said. An extended curfew is underway.

(All times CET)

UN Atomic Chief Warns of ‘Real Risk’ of Nuclear Disaster (6 p.m.)

The director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency made his first public comments after Friday’s shelling near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, calling it “the latest in a long line of increasingly alarming reports.”

The incident “underlines the very real risk of a nuclear disaster that could threaten public health and the environment in Ukraine and beyond,” Rafael Grossi said in a statement.

Military action around the plant -- which Russia occupied in March but is still being operated by Ukrainian personnel -- “must be avoided at all costs,” he said.

Kherson Region to Issue Russian Drivers Licenses: Tass (3 p.m.)

Authorities in the occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine have started issuing Russian drivers licenses and car license plates, the state-run Tass news service reported, citing a spokesperson for Russia’s traffic authority.

The move would be the latest in a bid to consolidate administrative control of occupied areas. Ukrainian civilians are being required to acquire Russian passports to participate in many basic life activities, including registering their cars.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency reported that Russian authorities have written to business owners requesting that they register and start paying Russian taxes.

Germany Warns of Energy Crisis as Soon as December (2:20 p.m.)

Germany needs to lower gas use by at least 20% or face an acute shortage as soon as December, the president of the Federal Network Agency said.

Klaus Mueller, in an interview published Saturday by Welt am Sonntag, said Germany needs to plan for two winters in which the country still needs Russian gas. His latest warning reflects the pressure caused by Russia cutting gas flows through the key Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of its normal capacity.

Germany is debating whether to postpone its planned exit from nuclear energy to ease the energy crunch. Wolfram Koenig, head of Germany’s Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Management, called for new assessments nuclear security in the context of the war in Ukraine, according to an interview published Saturday in Tagesspiegel.

Ukraine’s Grain Corridors Still Need Ships (11:53 a.m.)

Ukraine’s first grain exports since being invaded by Russia are bringing relief to squeezed global markets, but challenges remain before the millions of tons stuck in the country can move.

Among them is caution among shipowners about sending their vessels into harm’s way, as the Black Sea waters are littered with mines and Russia didn’t hesitate to strike the port of Odesa a day after the safe-passage agreement was signed.

Officials with knowledge of the insurance market quoted a wide range of figures for covering the nation’s cargoes, with most of the numbers looking prohibitive for the trade.

Ukraine’s Grain Corridors Still Need Ships to Ease Food Crisis

Zelenskiy Calls Russian Plant Shelling ‘Act of Terror’ (8 a.m.)

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces fired at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest atomic facility, twice on Friday and called for sanctions against Moscow’s nuclear industry.

“Any shelling of this facility is an open, brazen crime, an act of terror,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “Russia should bear responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant.”

Russia’s defense ministry denied the reports, saying Ukraine was to blame. Russian forces have occupied the plant since early in their invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces have repeatedly used artillery systems deliberately positioned within the Zaporizhzhia complex to fire on targets across the Dnipro River, according to the Institute for the Study of War.

War About to Enter New Phase, UK Says (6:30 a.m.)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is about to enter a new phase” with a front line stretching from near Zaporizhzhia southwest to Kherson, the UK defense ministry said in a Twitter thread. It said Moscow’s troops are massing in the south in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“Long convoys of Russian military trucks, tanks, towed artillery, and other weapons continue to move away from Ukraine’s Donbas region and are headed southwest,” the UK said. Equipment was also on the move from Russian-occupied Melitopol, Mariupol and other areas.

Ukraine’s forces are targeting on bridges, ammunition depots, and rail links with growing frequency in Ukraine’s southern regions, the UK said. Kyiv is also looking to disrupt rail links from Kherson to Russian-occupied Crimea.

Putin, Erdogan Pledge Deeper Ties (7:58 p.m.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan held nearly four hours of talks Friday, as Ankara pushes for a mediating role to try to help end the war in Ukraine following the breakthrough deal on grain exports.

While Turkey has long pushed for a role in brokering a peace settlement in Ukraine, Russia has so far been cool to the idea. Still, Erdogan is seen in Moscow as a potential go-between in the conflict, said two people familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking, asking not to be identified because the matter is sensitive.

Putin, Erdogan Stress Trust, Pledge Deeper Ties at Summit Talks

Ukraine Disconnects a Nuclear Plant Generator After Shelling (7:14 p.m.)

Ukraine’s national nuclear power operator said it disconnected one of three generators that were operating at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, after Russian projectiles landed nearby.

Energoatom said on its Telegram channel that a high-voltage power line was damaged. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that Russia has resorted to “numerous provocations” at the plant.

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said this week that the plant, occupied by Russian forces since early in Moscow’s invasion, is “completely out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated.”

Ukraine Shores Up Reserves, Helped by Devaluation (5:30 p.m.)

Ukraine’s currency reserves held steady last month, marking a halt to a plunge as the central bank devalued the hryvnia in an attempt to rescue an economy battered by Russia’s invasion.

The bank’s stockpile of foreign currencies and gold slipped 1.8% in July to $22.4 billion, according to preliminary data released in Kyiv. The reserves had plunged as much as $2 billion a month since April as policy makers propped up government financing with heavy bond purchasing and market intervention to support the hryvnia.

Kremlin Escalates Estonian Row Over Soviet-Era Tank (4:25 p.m.)

Russia escalated a dispute over the removal of a Soviet-era memorial in neighboring Estonia, compounding tensions in a European Union member state that has fiercely condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin’s chief spokesman on Friday called the plans to remove a World War II tank in the eastern Estonian city of Narva, which sits on the border with Russia, a “war against history.” Earlier, Estonia’s president reinforced a pledge to remove communist-era memorials, saying Putin’s invasion had disgraced memories of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.

US, Russia Say They’re Willing to Discuss Griner Prisoner Swap (3:06 p.m.)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they’re willing to pursue talks on a prisoner exchange involving Griner, even as the diplomats didn’t meet Friday at an ASEAN summit in Cambodia.

“There is a special channel agreed upon by the presidents,” Lavrov told a news conference, a day after a Moscow court sentenced Griner to nine years on drug charges. “Whatever is said publicly, that channel is still open.”

The US is seeking a deal involving Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was jailed in Russia in 2020 on spying charges he denies. Washington has made a “substantial proposal that Russia should engage with us on,” said Blinken. “What Foreign Minister Lavrov said this morning and said publicly is that they are prepared to engage through channels we’ve established to do just that and we’ll be pursuing.”

Read more: ‘Unacceptable’ Griner Sentence Has Biden in Bind With Russia

Russia Expels 14 Bulgarian Diplomats in Tit-for-Tat Move (2:04 p.m.)

Russia declared 14 employees of Bulgarian embassy and consulates as personae non grata, responding to the earlier expulsion of 70 Russian diplomats, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

It also blamed the government in Bulgaria, once a close ally, of taking counterproductive actions. Bulgaria expelled a record number of diplomats after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Kyiv Protests Amnesty Report on Endangering Civilians (9:46 a.m.)

Amnesty International said Ukraine’s military has endangered civilians “by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.” The report drew a sharp rebuke from Kyiv. The head of the rights group’s Ukrainian operation said her office wasn’t involved in the preparation of the document and made “repeated objections” to the content.

Thursday’s report said that Ukraine’s actions “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians,” but added that “being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Thursday that criticism of his military’s defense aids Russian “terrorists.” He didn’t mention Amnesty by name. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Facebook that the human rights organization was “losing its mind,” by indirectly equating Russia’s aggression and Ukraine’s self-defense.

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