As images emerge on social media of smoke rising from what appear to be fresh attacks near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) renewed calls for an inspection of the facility.
“We certainly can all agree that any nuclear catastrophe will be unacceptable,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Thursday during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), called by Russia, which has occupied the plant since March. He warned that military actions near the plant "could lead to very serious consequences."
“We must all work together to prevent that. I ask that both sides cooperate and allow our mission to Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant to proceed as soon as possible.”
Grossi said that despite shelling over the weekend, which caused damage in and around Europe’s largest nuclear power facility, there was no immediate danger to the plant.
There also appeared to be damage to power lines running from the plant.
During the UNSC meeting, Russia’s representative ticked off a litany of attacks he said were conducted by Ukraine, and blamed Ukraine for blocking the IAEA’s visit to the plant.
A Ukrainian representative blamed Russia for the shelling, for blocking the IAEA visit, and for firing on Ukrainian positions from the plant.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, both UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the U.S. called for demilitarization of the plant, where Russia is basing troops and weapons systems.
Regardless of the ongoing blame game, attacks on a nuclear power plant are, not surprisingly, raising global alarm bells.
And they are kicking up a number of interesting theories.
Ukraine, for instance, is warning that Russia is trying to link the ZNPP to Crimea and may be attacking the plant to "reorient its electricity production to occupied territories," noted author, scholar and conflict expert Samuel Ramani surmised on Twitter. He also raised the possibility that "Russia is possibly attacking the plant to reorient its electricity production to occupied territories."
Ramani went on to say that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using Russia's militarization of the ZNPP to renew calls for a "no-fly" zone over Ukraine, something which Russia dismissed and U.S. and NATO officials have strongly stated in the past will not happen.
Before we get into more details about the past few days of fighting in Ukraine, you can catch up on our previous rolling coverage of the war here.
Most of the fighting over the last 24 hours has been concentrated between Mykolaiv and Kherson and south of Kryvyi Rih in the south of Ukraine and in several places in the Donbas, according to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War.
There has been very little movement of the front lines in either sector, with the Russians chipping away at small gains across the east and south and Ukraine claiming small pockets via counteroffensive actions around Kharkiv in the east and on the northern edge of the Kherson Oblast in the south.
Accidents seemingly continue to plague forces aligned against Ukraine.
A day after Russia strained credulity by claiming massive explosions at its Saki airbase in occupied Crimea were the result of a “violation of fire safety rules,” The Times of London reported that explosions rocked a Belarusian military base close to the Ukraine border.
But the Belarusian Defence Ministry blamed massive explosions on "the engine of a vehicle caught fire after replacement,” Reuters reported.
Ukrainian officials maintain that the Zyabrauka base in Belarus has been used by the Russian Air Force during Moscow's ongoing unprovoked war against Ukraine, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Last month, the military said Russia has based Iskander-M and S-400 mobile missile systems at the Belarusian airport, using them to strike Ukraine.
A CNN investigation is casting major doubts on Russian dubious claims about the deadly July 29th incident at the Olenivka detention center, which housed many prisoners who belonged to the nationalist Azov Regiment and were transferred there after surrendering at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in May.
Russia has claimed the detention center was hit by U.S.-provided Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) munitions fired by U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS.
“A CNN investigation based on analysis of video and photographs from the scene, satellite imagery from before and after the attack and the work of forensic and weapons experts concludes the Russian version of events is very likely a fabrication. There is almost no chance that a HIMARS rocket caused the damage to the warehouse where the prisoners were being held,” CNN reported.
“Experts consulted by CNN discount a HIMARS strike on Olenivka -- but can’t say definitively what killed and wounded so many prisoners. A lack of access makes definitive conclusions impossible. However, experts say most signs point to an intense fire, and according to several witnesses there was no sound of an incoming rocket.”
Meanwhile, defunct action star and Putin buddy Steven Seagal gave his expert take on what happened from the scene for Russian media:
Speaking of Azovstal, there are still 131 women from the captured steel plant who remain in Russian captivity, according to the pro-Ukrainian Ukraine Now Telegram channel.
"Among them are those who served in the "Azov" Battalion, military medics, border guards, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, the National Guard, the Armed Forces, and other formations. There are also 33 medics who are considered non-combatants according to the Geneva Conventions", said the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk, that channel reported.
“According to her, what Russia did to Ukrainian prisoners of war in Olenivka is an act of terrorism, for which the world should list Russia as a terrorist state or the one, financing terrorism.”
The parliament of the former Russian republic of Latvia did something close, declaring Russia to be a state sponsor of terrorism.
“Russia's violence against Ukrainian civilians and cluster munitions use are driving Latvia's terrorism designation,” said Ramani in a Tweet Thursday morning. “Ukrainian officials also roped in Russia's militarization of the Zaporizhzhia plant as proof of nuclear terrorism, so it will be interesting if the EU adopts this."
Shortly after the explosions at the Saki Air Base in Crimea, images began to emerge of frightened tourists hightailing it away from the area. But that’s not the only image captured of how the war is affecting the Russian-occupied peninsula.
Now video has emerged of beach goers there finding not cools shells in the sand, but the booster section of a Pantsir-S1 9M335 missile that washed ashore in Alushta, Crimea.
And speaking of Crimea, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MOD) on Thursday continued its relentless trolling of the Russians, posting a snarky faux tourism advert warning prospective vacationers to avoid what may increasingly be a target.
"Unless they want an unpleasantly hot summer break, we advise our valued russian guests not to visit Ukrainian Crimea," the Ukrainian MOD tweeted with heavy dollops of sarcasm. "Because no amount of sunscreen will protect them from the hazardous effects of smoking in unauthorised areas."
Not to be outdone, Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces put out a troll Tweet of its own, playing up those annoying “Captcha” pictograms asking for users to click on various images to prove they are not robots.
In this case, the images are of bomb blast sites at Saki and the reader is asked to pick the ones that show an airplane!
After nearly six months of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, there have been many signs that the invading forces are suffering from morale and supply issues.
Images posted on Twitter Wednesday appear to show the latest evidence of that.
In the place of dynamic protection against incoming fire in the form of explosive reactive armor (ERA) bricks that can stop some forms of incoming fire, video emerged showing a captured Russian T-80BVM main battle tank that apparently had rubber-filled bricks.
They may be good for erasing some of the bad memories of this war, but it is unlikely to offer much protection against St. Javelin.
Russia, meanwhile, appears to be moving more equipment out of storage to fight in Ukraine.
Critical infrastructure continues to take a beating from both sides in this war.
New video has emerged Wednesday showing what appear to be several craters on the bridge along the Nova Kakhovka dam, presumably after Tuesday's shelling.
The dam is apparently not reminder of war there. Thursday morning, video emerged of Russians firing multiple rockets from what appears to be a BM-21 Grad MLRS "right outside a cafe in the centre of Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast," according to a Tweet from Ukrainian journalist Anastasia Magazova.
Taking a shot at the recent report from Amnesty International blaming Ukrainians for using civilians as shields, Magazova asked a biting rhetorical question.
"Where is #Amnesty? - I dare to ask."
The apparent Russian downing of a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB-2 drone is a case of good news/bad news for the Ukrainians operating it in their fight against invading forces. The TB-2s, even according to Ukraine's own pilot corps, have been less effective near the front lines due to Russia fortifying its anti-air umbrella in those areas. The introduction of anti-radiation missiles may help with that a bit, but clearly the TB-2s remain at high risk.
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