Written by Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
As part of its overall strategy to isolate and “cancel” Russia, the US, for the last few months, has been pursuing, both publicly and behind the scenes, a policy aimed at ousting Moscow from international organizations, with a focus on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, and also the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). A large part of this campaign has to do with the issue of Zaporizhzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), Europe’s largest atomic power station, where the IAEA established, last year, a permanent presence to monitor compliance with agreed principles aiming at nuclear safety
In April, for example, the US Department of Energy sent a letter to Rosatom (Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company), stating that the US possesses “sensitive” nuclear technology at the ZNPP and warning Moscow not to “manipulate” it. In June, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in turn, without providing further details, said that Russian authorities were planning a “terrorist act” at the plant. In July, he further claimed Russian troops had planted explosive devices on the roofs of the reactor units there. It turns out an IAE team inspected said roofs and found “no evidence of explosives”, as the organization reported in September.
Hawkish voices within the US have been urging NATO to be “prepared” for “intervention” so as to protect the ZNPP and avoid a “nuclear disaster” brought about by Russian President Vladimir Putin – any such disaster would obviously bring terrible consequences for Russia as well and it remains unclear why Moscow would seek to have a nuclear catastrophe in the very region it currently controls and which has become part of its territory after the referendums.
The IAEA last month did voice its concern about threats to Zaporizhzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant. Its experts, deployed there, have reported hearing a number of explosions (albeit with no damage to the plant), which indicate an increase in military activity. On September 8, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated the agency is concerned about dangers facing the plant involving “heightened military tension”.
The IAEA and the US are not the only actors concerned about this. It would seem, however, that the main threat to the ZNPP comes from Ukraine. In June, Moscow itself asked the IAEA to ensure Kiev does not shell the nuclear plant. On Thursday, however, Ukrainian drones reportedly launched an attack near the facility, and Russian air defense forces shot them down. According to Russia’s defense ministry, Kiev “continues to carry out provocations” in the sensitive area. There is no reason to doubt this, as it is in line with Ukraine’s modus operandi in the last few years.
As I wrote before, if one is to believe Western media, Russia is but a kind of pariah state with no credibility at all. Thus, its allegations about Ukraine employing “human shields”, for example, were at first ridiculed. However, in August 2022, an Amnesty International’s report exposed Kiev as doing precisely that. Last year I also wrote on how Ukraine kept gathering data about chemical facilities in Donbass. On 19 June 2022, Ukrainian troops irresponsibly shelled the Yasinovka coke and chemical plant in the Kirovsky district of Makiivka in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Moreover, the Ukrainian military strategy has famously involved employing extremist paramilitary groups as proxies for terrorist attacks and provocations. The so-called “Freedom of Russian Legion” (FRL) and the “Russian Volunteer Corps” (RVC) paramilitary organizations, for example, have been behind a number of such acts. The latter, the RVC, is one of the most violent far-right groups worldwide, according to Telegraph’s journalist James Kilner, and is led by notorious neo-Nazi Denis Kapustin. The Ukrainian military intelligence agency itself confirmed that the RVC has a unit within the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. Kiev relies heavily on such extremist groups for warfare, the infamous Azov regiment playing a key role in its security forces since 2014 (see this Guardian piece by Shaun Walker, for instance) – such organizations of course are not notorious for being safety-concerned. Ukraine’s strategy has also involved attacking chemical plants and facilities. The hard truth is that thus far Kiev rejected all IAEA proposals for ensuring the safety of the ZNPP.
Zaporizhzhia, as well as Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, are typically described, plain and simple, as Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. The reality regarding these disputed areas, like everything else in the post-Soviet world, is far more complex. In late September 2022 referendums were held in Zaporizhzhia, as well as in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson. At the time of these referendums, the Russian Federation did not in fact fully control any of the four regions. The legality of such elections has been disputed by international actors, but their results are arguably coherent with previous polls and cannot be explained away by Russian military presence. In Crimea, many years before (2014), the majority of the population favored accession treaties for the region to become once again part of the Russian people, and this without any armed conflict and without the presence of any Russian forces
Interestingly, in November 2021, according to surveys conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), which is part of the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research, 49% of the total Ukrainian population wanted to have no borders and no customs with Russia. Those are total figures, but we know that in Southern and Eastern Ukraine the percentage of people having “pro-Russian” attitudes has always been much higher, due to historical, language and ethnic reasons. More recently, over 8 years of armed far-right rise in the country and Ukrainian military campaigns against Donbass and Russian-speaking people greatly contributed to it. In early February 2022, before Moscow launched its military campaign, Kiev was massively bombing the Donbass region.
Today, any American hopes of victory in their proxy attrition war in Ukraine are now quite low, Israel being in the spotlight. House Republicans in the US have in fact just approved a $14 billion Israel aid package bill and lawmakers object to further aiding Ukraine. According to former US Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis (a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities), there is just “no amount of aid” that could grant Kiev a military victory. He writes:
“If Ukraine was unable to break the Russian defensive lines after four full months of effort, after six full months of preparation, after receiving over $46 billion in military backing… by what logic can supporters of additional aid argue that giving another multi-billion dollar package will succeed where all previous efforts have failed? There is none.” Davis concludes that “It is time to acknowledge this obvious on-the-ground truth and seek out other pathways forward.”
From a Western perspective, such “pathways” should include reestablishing diplomatic channels to Moscow, in preparation for Kiev’s likely defeat, with commitments to ensure the rights of both ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, as a way to seek a framework for peaceful Western-Russian competition and coexistence in the emerging de-dolarized polycentric world. Trying to isolate and oust Russia from major international organizations is clearly not the way to do it.
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