Increasing grain exports out of both Russia and Ukraine along with the safety of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) are the main international concerns of the moment in the on-going war in Ukraine.
On Thursday, August 18, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky received Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Lviv for talks that focused on those two topics.
Erdogan and Guterres brokered the Black Sea Grain initiative, signed onto by Russia and Ukraine at the end of July to allow the safe passage of Russian and Ukrainian agricultural exports through the Black Sea. Russia has had the sea, the main trade route for Ukrainian products, blocked since the beginning of the war at the end of February. Now Zelensky is leaning on the two leaders to continue to advance Ukraine’s position, forging an agreement regarding the Russian-occupied ZNPP.
Russian forces have held the ZNPP, Europe’s largest nuclear facility, since March. In recent weeks both Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for shelling the plant and risking a nuclear disaster. Ukraine has also accused Russia of using the plant as cover to store weapons and of currently plotting to disconnect the plant from the Ukrainian power grid, deepening the country’s energy crisis. Reuters reports that the Ukrainian technicians operating the facility work under heavy pressure from a strong Russian military presence.
In a statement, the office of the Ukrainian presidency said “the parameters of a possible [International Atomic Energy Agency] mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant were agreed with the UN Secretary-General—in a legal way through the territory free from the occupiers.”
Following the talks, Guterres called for the demilitarisation of the nuclear plant.
“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to re-establish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area,” he said.
Zelensky reiterated the goal.
“The UN must guarantee the security of this strategic site, its demilitarization and its complete liberation from Russian troops,” Zelensky said on Telegram.
The day after the talks, August 19th, French President Emmanuel Macron held talks by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which they also discussed the nuclear plant and agriculture exports, France 24 reports. Macron expressed his concerns about risks to nuclear safety and Putin said he supported sending a mission from the International Atomic Energy Commission to inspect the plant, according to statements from both governments. Putin also complained about on-going difficulties in exporting grain.
For an IAEA mission to take place, both Ukraine and Russia would have to agree to the conditions.
Euronews also reports that Russia warned the international community later in the day that any nuclear disaster at the site would be on its hands, not Russia’s, rejecting calls to demilitarize the facility.
The news agency reports Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s security council, said that
in [the] case of a technological disaster, its consequences will be felt in every corner of the world. Washington, London and their accomplices will bear full responsibility for that.
Also on Friday August 19, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the Black Sea port of Odessa to assess the situation. International markets, particularly in Africa, rely heavily on Ukrainian and Russian exports of agricultural products. Russia had Ukrainian products blocked in ports from the start of the Russian invasion at the end of February until a UN-brokered agreement started to allow exports through the maritime trade route.
However, moving the massive amount of wheat, sunflower seeds, and additional products into international markets is going slowly.
“This is an agreement between two parties locked in bitter conflict. It is unprecedented in scope and scale. But there is still a long way to go on many fronts,” Guterres said. “It is time for massive and generous support so developing countries can purchase the food from this and other ports – and people can buy it.”
The UN has become increasingly concerned about the effects the blockade, and now the exportation backlog, is having on poorer countries.