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Phone Call Between Macron and Putin About Zaporizhzhia

At a time when the Ukrainian army is leading a vigorous counter-offensive against the Russians, a new telephone exchange took place between French President Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin, concerning the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. 

The conversation was reported by the Russian news agency Tass, which quoted a statement from the Kremlin. The call was initiated by France. In addition to the subject of Zaporizhzhia, the two heads of state had a “detailed and frank exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine.”

The Zaporizhzhia power plant is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and has been a source of concern for several weeks, as it has been struck during numerous shelling campaigns, for which neither Russia and Ukraine have taken responsibility. 

On Sunday, September 11th, Ukraine announced the total shutdown of the plant, while one last reactor—the sixth—was still operating: “Today, 11 September 2022, during the night at 3:41 a.m. (1:41 a.m. GMT) unit number 6 of the plant was disconnected from the power grid,” said the Ukrainian operator of Energoatom in a statement. “Preparations are underway for its cooling,” the operator added. The reactor was able to be shut down and put into a cold state, an ideal situation in terms of safety. 

The six units of Soviet design, with a total production capacity of nearly 6,000 megawatts, were commissioned between 1984 and 1995. Since then they have provided one fifth of Ukraine’s electricity production. The Zaporizhzhia plant has been under the control of Russian forces since March. The decision to shut down the plant was taken as the military situation around the site continues to be tense. All six reactors at the plant are now shut down.

The Russian president denounced to his French counterpart “the regular Ukrainian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia NPP sites, including the radioactive waste repository.” The deterioration of the situation could have, in the words of Vladimir Putin, “catastrophic consequences.” Emmanuel Macron reportedly responded by blaming the Russian occupation for the risks to the plant. Vladimir Putin nevertheless said he was ready to collaborate with the UN’s atomic agency. 

The exchange between the Russian and French presidents comes a day after a conversation between Emmanuel Macron and Volodymyr Zelensky about the safety of the plant. The two presidents expressed their common concern for the security of the nuclear facilities and insisted on the need for a withdrawal of Russian forces from the area.

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).