Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations after the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report it was “gravely concerned” about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, amid ongoing fighting around the site.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he trusted the report and accused Ukraine of shelling the plant.
“[The IAEA] are under pressure and cannot directly say that shelling comes from Ukrainian territory” he said on Wednesday. “We are controlling the station, our servicemen are stationed there. What, are we shooting at our own [men] or what? This is utter rubbish, it's impossible to say otherwise.”
The Russian President went on to deny there were military personnel or equipment inside the station.
“I saw the report says that the IAEA considers it necessary to remove military equipment from the territory of the power plant. But there is no military equipment on the territory of the power plant, the IAEA staff should have seen it,” Putin said. “And they can still see it now because two employees stayed there.”
“Our military equipment... is not placed at the station. It is quite far off outside the perimeter of the station,” he added.
In its report, the IAEA said there was indeed military equipment inside the power plant, even releasing a picture of a Russian military truck.
“The team observed the presence of Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment at various places at the ZNPP [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant], including several military trucks on the ground floor of the Unit 1 and Unit 2 turbine halls and military vehicles stationed under the overpass connecting the reactor units,” the report said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday backed the IAEA’s call’s for demilitarization of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and surrounding support infrastructure, calling on the agency to “force Russia to demilitarize the territory of the NPP and return full control to Ukraine.”
Ukraine has also consistently blamed Russia for the shelling at the power plant and also accused Moscow of using the facility as a shield from which to fire at Kyiv’s positions across the Dnieper river.
The IAEA has called for the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to be demilitarized but, thus far, both Ukraine and Russia seem reluctant to engage in the kind of coordination needed to achieve that.
The IAEA team dispatched to the plant included six experts who carried out what the agency describes as “essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards work.” Two of the experts have remained behind to continued that work and enable the IAEA “to observe the situation there and provide independent assessments.”
CNN has reached out to the IAEA for additional details on the work they will be undertaking at the station but has yet to hear back.