Russia Ukraine

Russia Ukraine: The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon at the request of Russia to discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, where nearby fighting has raised the risk of a nuclear accident.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for attacks in and around Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear plant, including recent shelling that fell dangerously close to the reactors. The Russian military took control of the site in March but Ukrainian technicians still operate the facility.

Hours before the U.N. meeting was to start, Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia has been shelling ash pits near the Zaporizhzhia facility, raising clouds of toxic dust and causing radiation levels in the area to rise. It did not offer details on how much the levels had spiked, or whether the dust presented a health threat.

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As U.S. intelligence agencies warn that Russia may redouble attacks to coincide with the six-month anniversary of its invasion on Wednesday, which is also Ukraine’s Independence Day, the fighting around the nuclear plant looms as one of the gravest risks in the prolonged conflict. Hostilities in the south are intensifying as Russia aims to fortify its defensive positions in lands it has seized, and Ukraine tries to muster a counteroffensive.

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, has said the situation around the Zaporizhzhia facility is “critical” and warned of a catastrophic nuclear accident if the plant and the area surrounding it are not demilitarized. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has requested secure access for its inspectors since at least June. It remains unclear when or whether Russia or Ukraine would grant access.

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In his overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine accused Russia of “playing around” with international bodies and assailed Moscow for having “the audacity to convene the U.N. Security Council to discuss its provocations.”

Russia is expected on Tuesday to base its argument on a letter its mission to the United Nations circulated among council members last week. In the letter, Russia claimed without evidence that Ukraine was attacking the Zaporizhzhia plant and that the United States and Ukraine were planning to cause a minor accident there for which they would blame Russia.

Russia has made similar allegations to the Security Council about chemical and biological attacks. The United States and Ukraine have denied those allegations as baseless.

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The letter says that since July 18, Ukrainian armed forces have systematically shelled the nuclear plant using rocket launchers and had damaged the auxiliary support system at the site and life support, according to a copy of the document posted on the Twitter account of Russia’s mission to the United Nations.

The meeting on Tuesday is a day before a scheduled session requested by the United States and European members to mark six months since Russia began its invasion.

Mr. Guterres is scheduled to brief the council on Wednesday about his recent trip to Ukraine. And U.N. officials and some diplomats are expected to condemn Russia’s invasion and the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

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