US says Russia’s use of ‘nuclear shield’ in Ukraine poses risk of catastrophe

  • US says Russia is using “nuclear shield”.
  • The first grain ship left Ukraine
  • Ukraine says 22,000 Russian troops are ready to advance south
  • Governor says foreign fighters are entering Luhansk
  • Ukraine says it has recaptured 50 towns in Kherson

UNITED NATIONS/KYIV, Aug 2 (Reuters) – The United States has accused Russia of using Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as a “nuclear shield.”

Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken said the US was “deeply concerned” that the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russia was accused of dangerously bombing in March, is now a Russian military base being used to fire on nearby Ukrainian forces.

“Certainly the Ukrainians cannot back down lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear power plant,” Blinken told reporters after nuclear non-proliferation talks at the United Nations in New York on Monday. read more

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Russia’s actions went beyond the use of “human shields,” calling it “nuclear shields.”

At the New York talks, Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mykola Tochytskyi said “strong joint measures are needed to prevent a nuclear catastrophe” and called on the international community to “close the skies” over Ukraine’s nuclear power plants with air defense systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine sparked the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, killing thousands, displacing millions and leaving large parts of Ukraine in ruins.

The war has caused a global food crisis, with Russia and Ukraine producing a third of the world’s wheat, while Western sanctions on Russia, Europe’s main energy supplier, have caused a global energy crisis.

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First Grains Ship

The first ship to carry Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea since Russia invaded five months ago left the port of Odessa for Lebanon on Monday under the Safe Passage Agreement.

The cruise was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertilizer export deal between Russia and Ukraine last month — a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a conflict that has turned into a tug-of-war.

The Sierra Leonean-flagged Razoni will sail through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Russian Navy-dominated Black Sea with the Mediterranean, to the port of Tripoli in Lebanon. It carries 26,527 tons of corn.

But there are still hurdles to overcome before millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain can leave Black Sea ports, including removing sea mines and building a framework for ships to safely enter the conflict zone and pick up cargo. read more

The United Nations has warned that there is a risk of multiple famines this year due to the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine, known as Europe’s breadbasket, hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain from silos and 40 million tonnes of harvest to help clear silos for the new crop.

Russia called Razoni’s departure “very positive” news, but it has denied responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that have cut its exports and Ukraine laying underwater mines at the entrance to its ports.

Now Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of laying floating mines around the Black Sea.

Signaling a deepening energy row between Russia and Europe, Russia on Monday said Gazprom did nothing to help with urgent repairs to its main gas pipeline to Europe, Nord Stream 1, following further declines in production and exports. read more

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Gas from Russia met 40% of European needs before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. Russia cut gas supplies via Nord Stream 1 to 20% of capacity last week, saying a turbine sent to Canada for maintenance had not been returned and other equipment needed repairs.

Russian progress

Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special operation” to militarize its neighbors. Ukraine and the West have dismissed it as a baseless pretext for war.

After failing to capture the capital Kyiv early in the war, Russia is now aiming to capture the eastern Donbass region, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, partially occupied by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion, and much of the south. Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, told the media that 22,000 Russian troops were preparing to advance on the cities of Kriviy Rih and Mykolaiv, where “a sufficient number” of Ukrainian forces were waiting.

In the Russian-controlled Kherson region, Ukrainian troops have liberated about 50 towns, said Yury Sobolevsky, deputy head of the ousted Kherson regional council.

“Russian troops are sustaining significant losses in the Kherson region,” Sobolevsky wrote in a telegram.

Reuters could not verify the battlefield report.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the almost entirely Russian-controlled Luhansk region, said foreign fighters were arriving to help Russian forces.

“We have noticed more and more private military companies coming into the region – the Wagner group,” Gaidai told Ukrainian television, adding that these irregular forces were motivated by “money and looting”.

Russian private military firm Wagner could be given responsibility for front-line units in eastern Ukraine, possibly as Russia faces a shortage of infantry, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said last week.

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Keidai said the partisans were destroying infrastructure, including gas and water networks, in the stricken cities of Luhansk to slow down Russian forces.

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Report by Reuters Bureau; Written by Michael Perry; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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