Zaporizhzhia NPP warnings

5 07 2023

Here’s my read of what’s going on with all the recent warnings surrounding the fate of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP).

All signs point to a Russian plan to do something with or at the plant — something that could potentially contaminate a large portion of Ukrainian territory and decommission at least part of the ZNPP (so that Ukrainians wouldn’t be able to use it or the land around it) — and that would have enough ambiguity around it as to allow Russian “deniability.”

The ZNPP is the largest such plant in Europe, and is currently, though barely, on the Russian controlled side of Ukrainian territory. As Ukrainian forces advance, Russia does not expect to hold onto it. As with the Kakhovka dam explosion, Russia will continue to blame Ukraine. Their propaganda players have been ratcheting up the “Ukrainian false flag” narratives for days (have a look at responses to Zelenskyi’s recent Twitter post warning of a potential Russian explosion at the ZNPP to see what that looks like).

The reality-check question here is: who would benefit from any ZNPP disaster and who would lose out? It is Ukrainian land, which Ukrainians expect to gain back and Russians expect (at this point) to lose. Furthermore, it has been historically significant Ukrainian land going back to the 17th century Cossack state, which Ukrainians consider an early progenitor of Ukrainian democracy. (As I and many have been arguing, culture and history are important in this neocolonial/anti-colonial struggle.)

Just as Russia hardly cares for its own conscripts, it doesn’t give a damn about Ukrainian land. Quite the contrary: Putin’s goal all along has been to either take over Ukraine, denying it the right to exist as an independent state (except perhaps as a minimal rump state in western-central Ukraine), or to take some of it “back” and prevent the rest from posing any challenge to his rule. An economically successful democracy at his doorstep, that would demonstrate to Russians that they need not accept his rule, would be the kind of “challenge” he has in mind.

Russia’s unstated precondition for “returning” militarily conquered land is that it will destroy its value for Ukrainians, with the message being “You want this back? Here, have it, it’s yours and it’s useless.” (This is what I recently described as Russia’s “colonial vengeance” for Ukraine’s decolonial trajectory.)

How likely is it that something serious will occur? Before February 24, 2022, hardly anyone thought it was likely that Russia will launch a full-scale invasion, but they did. So I would say that all bets are off. We hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, it won’t be unexpected.

How do we prevent it? The only way I can think of is through making clear why this is consistent with Russian strategies, and through putting international pressure on Russia not to do it.

May be an image of oil refinery



4 responses

5 07 2023
John Meehan

What is your opinion of this cautiously worded report on the actions of the IAEA?

5 07 2023
Adrian J Ivakhiv

Good question. It’s moderately reassuring that their representatives haven’t seen anything “on the ground” (i.e., “so far without observing any visible indications of mines or explosives”). But they aren’t privy to military intelligence, and they aren’t paying attention to the information war (which really has ramped up) or to external military developments and prospects (that Russia is likely going to have to let go of the NPP sooner or later). They also would like to have more access to the site (which they should). So there is probably some negotiation going on – e.g., “let us have more experts here, and we’ll be careful with our statements.” But that’s just my guess.

5 07 2023
John Meehan

Many thanks for the reply. Your story is reblogged here with some other information. Perhaps other interested readers will follow up. Best of luck and many thanks

5 07 2023

Daniel McLaughlin regularly reports from Ukraine for the Irish Times. In my opinion he is a very good reporter. Here is his updated account

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