Blinken says Russia is using Ukraine’s nuclear power plant as “human shield equivalent”

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United Nations – Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at the United Nations Monday on what he called “a critical moment” in efforts to protect the world from nuclear threats.

At the opening of the Tenth Annual Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the UN, Blinken pointed to North Korea’s “illegitimate nuclear program” and “ongoing provocations”, Iran’s “path of nuclear escalation” and the Russian aggression in Ukraine, which has included take control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“We are very concerned that Russia has taken over nuclear facilities in Ukraine, especially in Zaporizhzhya, one of the largest nuclear installations in Europe,” Blinken said.

“There are credible reports, including in the media today, that Russia is using this factory as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it is firing at Ukrainians from all over the factory and of course the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back or there would be a terrible accident at a nuclear power plant,” Blinken added, saying it is “the height of irresponsibility.”

File photo of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, on July 9, 2019. / Credit: Dmytro Smolyenko/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also attend the United Nations headquarters in New York for the opening days of the nuclear review conference, which had been postponed since 2020, at a the threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear security is an increasing concern among world leaders.

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“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation, away from nuclear destruction,” the UN Secretary-General said.

Grossi, the head of the international watchdog, pointed to the war in Ukraine as “so serious that the specter of a possible nuclear confrontation, or accident, has reared its terrifying head again.”

Grossi warned more specifically about the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya, saying that “the situation is getting more dangerous by the day.”

“It is urgent,” he said last week, as the agency has not been able to visit the site since the conflict began five months ago. On Monday, Grossi was clear about the dangers: “As this war continues, passivity is unscrupulous.”

“If there is an accident at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, we are not to blame for a natural disaster — we have only ourselves to answer for,” Grossi said, adding: “We need everyone’s support.”

Blinken told UKTN News at a press conference that “Ukraine had the confidence to give up the (nuclear) weapons it had inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed because of commitments Russia had made to respect its sovereignty, its independence and its structural integrity. and protect.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media after attending the 10th Annual Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review at UN Headquarters on August 1, 2022 in New York City.  /Credit: Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media after attending the 10th Annual Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review at UN Headquarters on August 1, 2022 in New York City. /Credit: Getty Images

“The fact that Russia has now done the exact opposite, that it has attacked Ukraine, without any cause to erase that sovereignty and independence that sends a terrible message to countries around the world making decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons,” Blinken said.

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He referred to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, an agreement in which the United States, Russia and Britain pledged to “respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty and the existing borders” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and “refrain from the threat or use of force” against it – assurances that convinced Ukraine to give up “what amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, comprising some 1,900 strategic warheads,” according to an analysis by Brookings .

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, established in 1968 to prevent the spread of weapons technology, sought to minimize the number of nuclear states – but keeping the nuclear genie in the bottle was an uphill battle. Nuclear-armed states at the time were Britain, China, France, and Russia (then the Soviet Union), and the number of nuclear weapons they possess has declined since the height of the Cold War. But in the years since, India, Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons and Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, though it has not confirmed or denied the existence of any program.

Iran has continued with its nuclear program since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear pact, but it has not yet produced a weapon. Iran’s nuclear power chief said this week that Iran has the potential to build a nuclear weapon, but has no intention of doing so.

The UN conference will continue in August and the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran will certainly be discussed on a daily basis.

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North Korea “continues to expand its illegal nuclear program and continue its provocations against the region,” Blinken said. “As we gather today, Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.”

The Secretary General’s assessment of nuclear threats was chilling: “Proliferation risks are increasing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening.”

Guterres will head to Hiroshima at the end of the week to mark the anniversary of the US nuclear bombing campaign in World War II – an event that will not be lost on the speakers at the event. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Russia’s indirect warning that the be able to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war has added “to the global concern that yet another catastrophe from the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility.”

Blinken also made it a point to respond to the threats made by China on the possibility of House Speaker Nancy Pelosic visiting Taiwan, a self-governing island that China is determined to reunite with the mainland.

Blinken said: “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan. Congress is an independent, equal branch of government – the decision is entirely up to the speaker.”

“If the speaker decides to visit, and China tries to create some sort of crisis, or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be all for Beijing,” Blinken said. “We are looking for them, in case she decides to visit us, to act responsibly and not engage in escalation in the future.”

China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said on Monday that China will defend its security and sovereignty if Pelosi visits Taiwan. He called the potential visit “provocative and serious.”

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