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Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called on Friday “for maximum restraint” following recent reports indicating an alarming situation at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
The plant is located in the Russian occupied part of southern Ukraine and the IAEA said it has not been able to visit the facility since before the conflict began five months ago.
“These reports are very disturbing and further underline the importance of the IAEA going to the Zaporizhzhia plant. I’m continuing my determined efforts to agree and lead a safety, security and safeguards mission to the site as soon as possible. It is urgent,” Grossi said in a statement, adding that there is a need to ”avoid any accident that could threaten public health in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
On Monday, Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, which is adjacent to the plant, said that an unexplained incident at the plant left several Russian soldiers injured as well as a number of dead people.
Orlov, who’s not in the city, said there was a lot of speculation surrounding what had happened, but that on Monday afternoon nine Russian soldiers "were urgently delivered to the city hospital with injuries of varying severity. Some had been hospitalized and one was in intensive care."
"There are also dead people, but we cannot give their exact numbers at the moment," he said.
"We will not guess what caused the simultaneous 'thinning' of the ranks of the occupiers at the facility," Orlov said. But he added that the Russians "were so frightened that they ran around the [power] station's territory in a panic" and had blocked two shifts of power plant workers.
The IAEA said that “in recent weeks, there have been a series of reports, both in the media and in the form of official communications received by the IAEA, suggesting that the already difficult and stressful conditions facing Ukrainian staff at the plant have deteriorated further.”
Grossi stressed that the UN nuclear watchdog must be able to send a mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant to “conduct essential safety, security and safeguards activities at the facility.”
The White House said it welcomes the agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey on exporting grain out of Ukraine, but warned actually implementing the agreement would require all sides' adhering to their commitments.
"The devil’s in the details here," said John Kirby, the National Security Council communications coordinator.
He thanked the United Nations secretary general and Turkish President Erdogan for helping broker the agreement and said it could help alleviate the potential for food shortages around the world.
But he said "success, of course, is going to depend on Russia’s compliance with this arrangement."
He said the deal's success would "come down to implementation and Russia’s compliance. "
"A lot of it’s going to depend on implementation and the degree to which the Russians actually agree to their end of the bargain," he said, adding the US was "hopeful" it would alleviate global food insecurity.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the deal is "a positive step towards addressing the far-reaching impacts of Russia’s war," but said Russia must end the war in order to eliminate the risk of a global food security catastrophe.
"The international community must now hold Russia accountable for this deal, ending its effective blockade of Ukraine’s ports and ensuring Ukrainian agricultural goods — including grain, oilseeds, and sunflower oil — reach world markets," he said in a statement.
"The world’s hungry cannot wait, and we expect the implementation of today’s deal to commence swiftly and proceed without interruption or interference," Blinken said.
The top US diplomat said "Russia has weaponized food since the beginning of this crisis."
"An end to Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s agricultural exports through the Black Sea is, therefore, only one of the many steps Russia needs to take to ensure that food from Ukraine makes it to global markets," he said.
"Global food security will remain at risk for as long as Russia continues its unjustified and brutal aggression against Ukraine," Blinken said.
The US is seeing “indications” that Russian forces fighting in Ukraine are “trying to adjust for the effects the HIMARS (high mobility artillery rocket systems) are having on them” on the battlefield, a senior US military official told reporters on Friday.
“The Ukrainians have concentrated a great deal of effort on the Russian command and control, their logistic supply areas, to include all sorts of classes of supply, in particular ammunition, so as a result the Russians are attempting to mitigate the effects through a number of means, camouflage, movement, changing locations,” the official said.
The official could not say how effective Russian forces’ efforts to mitigate the impact from the HIMARS has been.
“I can’t tell you what level of effect they’re having, but it doesn’t seem to be that good,” the official said.
The official also noted reports that Russian forces have destroyed four HIMARS are false.
“As of this morning, in our conversations with Ukrainians, that is not true, so all of the HIMARS continue to really be a thorn in the Russians’ side,” the official added.
The White House announced additional security assistance to Ukraine on Friday, the latest in a steady flow of billions of dollars worth of US munitions to help sustain the country's fight against Russia.
John Kirby, the communications coordinator for the US National Security Council, said the new $270 million package would include medium range rocket systems and tactical drones.
The latest package brings the total US assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Biden administration to $8.2 billion, Kirby said, and comes as the Russian war in Ukraine nears its fifth month.
Kirby said Biden would approve additional aid packages in the weeks and months to come.
The new package includes:
- Four high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) and additional ammunition for HIMARS
- Four command post vehicles
- 36,000 rounds of 105mm ammunition
- 3,000 anti-armor weapons
- Spare parts and other equipment
- Up to 580 "Phoenix Ghost" tactical unmanned aerial systems
A top State Department official said that pressure from the global community and Russia's need for money from its own agricultural exports may have led Moscow to sign an agreement to allow Ukrainian grain to transit through the Black Sea.
“This came together because, I think, Russia ultimately felt the hot breath of global opprobrium,” said Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs.
It is “now incumbent on Russia to actually implement this deal,” she told CNN hours after the deal was signed in Istanbul.
The agreement, which took weeks of negotiations, “is very well structured in terms of monitoring and in terms of, you know, channels that the grain ought to be able to get out of," she said at the Aspen Security Forum Friday.
Nuland noted that “it should have been easy, you know, we could have done this on the back of an envelope in the middle of an afternoon with will.” But Russia’s blockade “made this not only a European crisis, but obviously a global crisis in terms of food security," she added.
“Russia also was out there complaining to the world that its own fertilizer and grain couldn't get out,” Nuland also said, noting that US sanctions did not block the export of those products, but their agreement to Friday’s deal “may also have had to do with the fact that it was hard for them to get shippers and insurers and others to move their grain so they also need the money, given what else we're doing to them.”
A farmer from Zaporizhzhia told CNN he felt positively about the deal signed between Russia and Ukraine to unblock Black Sea ports for exporting grains, but he said he was weary of its implementation.
"We will watch and observe what will happen. It's good that they signed. But there are no results yet," Pavlo Serhienko said on Friday. “The price will be higher in the ports, but you still have to get there. We need to hire a car, logistics, etc. What will be the queues? How to go? Thousands of checkpoints.”
“I'm generally an optimist, but the reality is that there's not much in what you can believe now. But of course, we will hope that it is all for the better,” he added.
Serhienko went on to say that in his area, being able to export grain was only one of "a million problems."
"[Friday] there were two strikes again, and the wheat field burned again, and the fertilizer warehouse was destroyed. All the fertilizer was spilled on the ground, and it dissolves very quickly. After the rain, about 5-6 tons melted. Something must be done," he said. "Here, we mow under fire, sometimes in one field, then in another, because we are afraid that it will hit the people and the harvester."
A farmer from Mykolaiv told CNN that the deal signed is important but he does not want it come at the expense of any military concessions to Moscow from Kyiv.
"For us, it is absolutely necessary. Our warehouses and elevators are full of grain. The grain of the last harvest, the grain of this harvest," Mykhailo Trokhymovych said. "But we should sign this treaty only if we do not make any military concessions to Russia."
The European Union announced Friday it has approved an additional 500 million euros ($510 million) in military aid to Ukraine.
These “two assistance measures under the European Peace Facility (EPF) [are] aimed to step up the EU's support for the capabilities and resilience of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, and protect the civilian population against the ongoing Russian military aggression,” the European Council said in a statement.
The additional 500 million euros bring EU’s total military aid package to Ukraine to 2.5 billion euros ($2.55 billion), according to the Council.
“The EU remains focused and steadfast in its support for Ukraine in its fight for freedom and independence. Ukraine needs more arms; we will provide them. In this context, EU member states agreed to mobilize a fifth tranche of military assistance of 500 million euros, making this a total of 2.5 billion euros of military equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” according to Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
A deal signed Friday in Istanbul between Ukraine and Russia, and mediated by Turkey and the United Nations, would allow 5 million tonnes of grain exports per month from three Ukrainian ports, a senior UN official said Friday.
Here's what we know about the details of the deal:
As part of the deal, grain ships will be able to navigate through a safe corridor in the Black Sea then pass through the Bosphorus in order to reach global markets, the official said.
The vessels will be monitored by a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), which will be established immediately in Istanbul and include representatives from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN.
Vessels would be inspected before they arrive in Ukraine by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials to ensure they are not carrying weapons, according to the official.
Ukraine and Russia have agreed not to attack any ship identified as part of this initiative that is passing through the established channels. In case of an incident, JCC will intervene to resolve any possible issues, the official said.
Representatives from the International Maritime Organization have been coordinating shipments with shipping networks, the official said.
It may take several weeks before vessels start moving so that all logistical details of the deal can properly be implemented and inspection teams can be established, the official said.
Nonetheless, the process has to start quickly so that Ukraine's silos can be emptied for the new harvest, the official said.
The deal is valid for 120 days from the date of signing and can be extended for the same period unless one of the parties has announced their intention to terminate it, said Ukrainian minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, who signed the deal, in a Facebook post.
Some 20 million tonnes of grain are held up in Ukraine, where the summer harvest is now well underway.