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Russia Rocket Launchers at Nuke Plant  12/09 06:11


   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian forces have installed multiple rocket 
launchers at Ukraine's shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukrainian 
officials claimed Thursday, raising fears Europe's largest atomic power station 
could be used as a base to fire on Ukrainian territory and heightening 
radiation dangers.

   Ukraine's nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces 
occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one 
of its six nuclear reactors. It said the offensive systems are located at new 
"protective structures" the Russians secretly built, "violating all conditions 
for nuclear and radiation safety."

   The claim could not be independently verified.

   The Soviet-built multiple rocket launchers are capable of firing rockets at 
ranges of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), and Energoatom said they could enable 
Russian forces to hit the opposite bank of the Dnieper River, where each side 
blames the other for almost daily shelling in the cities of Nikopol and 
Marhanets. The plant is in a southern Ukrainian region the Kremlin has 
illegally annexed.

   The Zaporizhzhia station has been under Russian control since the war's 
early days. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling the plant and 
risking a radiation release. Although the risk of a nuclear meltdown is greatly 
reduced because all six reactors have been shut down, experts have said a 
dangerous radiation release is still possible. The reactors were shut down 
because the fighting kept knocking out external power supplies needed to run 
the reactors' cooling systems and other safety systems.

   The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has 
stationed inspectors at the plant and has been trying to persuade both sides in 
the conflict to agree to a demilitarized zone around it. The agency did not 
immediately respond to a request for comment about the reported Grad 
installation. Ukraine has accused the Russians before of having heavy weapons 
at the plant. The Kremlin has said it needs to maintain control of the plant to 
defend it from alleged Ukrainian attacks.

   With renewed focus on the dangers at Zaporizhzhia in the war, dragging on 
past nine months, the Kremlin is sending new signals about how to end it. It 
said Thursday it's up to Ukraine's president to end the military conflict, 
suggesting terms that Kyiv has repeatedly rejected, while Russian President 
Vladimir Putin vowed to press on with the fighting despite Western criticism.

   Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "(Ukrainian President Volodymyr) 
Zelenskyy knows when it may end. It may end tomorrow if he wishes so."

   The Ukraine war has deteriorated relations between Russia and much of the 
rest of the world, but limited cooperation continues in some areas, such as 
exchanges of prisoners. On Thursday, in a dramatic swap that had been in the 
making for months, Russia freed American basketball star Brittney Griner while 
the United States released a jailed Russian arms dealer.

   The Kremlin has long said that Ukraine must accept Russian conditions to end 
the fighting. It has demanded that Kyiv recognize Crimea -- a Ukrainian 
peninsula that Moscow illegally annexed in 2014 -- as part of Russia and also 
accept Moscow's other land gains in Ukraine.

   Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected those 
conditions, saying the war will end when the occupied territories are retaken 
or Russian forces leave them.

   In an acknowledgement that it's taking longer than he expected to achieve 
his goals in the conflict, Putin said Wednesday that the fighting in Ukraine 
"could be a lengthy process" while describing Moscow's land gains as "a 
significant result for Russia."

   During a conference call with reporters, Peskov said Moscow wasn't aiming to 
grab new land but will try to regain control of areas in Ukraine from which it 
withdrew just weeks after incorporating them into Russia in hastily called 
referendums -- which Ukraine and the West reject as illegal shams. After 
earlier retreats from the Kyiv and Kharkiv areas, Russian troops last month 
left the city of Kherson and parts of the Kherson region, one of the four 
illegally annexed Ukrainian regions.

   Putin vowed Thursday to achieve the declared goals in Ukraine regardless of 
the Western reaction.

   "All we have to do is make a move and there is a lot of noise, chatter and 
outcry all across the universe. It will not stop us fulfilling combat tasks," 
Putin said.

   He described Russian strikes on Ukraine's energy facilities and other key 
infrastructure as a legitimate response to an Oct. 8 truck bombing of a key 
bridge linking Crimea with Russia's mainland, and other attacks the Kremlin 
claimed Ukraine carried out. Putin also cited Ukraine's move to halt water 
supplies to the areas in eastern Ukraine that Russia controlled.

   "There is a lot of noise now about our strikes on the energy 
infrastructure," Putin said at a meeting with soldiers whom he decorated with 
the country's top medals. "Yes, we are doing it. But who started it? Who struck 
the Crimean bridge? Who blew up power lines from the Kursk nuclear power 
station? Who is not supplying water to Donetsk?"

   While stopping short of publicly claiming credit for the attacks, Ukrainian 
officials welcome their results and hint at Ukrainian involvement.

   Heavy fighting continues, mostly in regions Russia annexed. Zelenskyy's 
office said 11 civilians were killed in Ukraine Wednesday.

   The Donetsk region has been the epicenter of the recent fighting. Russian 
artillery struck the town of Yampil during distribution of humanitarian aid to 
civilians, Ukrainian officials said. Buildings were damaged in Kurakhove, 35 
kilometers (22 miles) west of the regional capital, Donetsk, officials said.

   More than ten cities and villages in the region were shelled, including the 
town of Bakhmut, which has remained in Ukrainian hands despite Moscow's goal of 
capturing the entire annexed Donbas region bordering Russia.

   In other developments:

   -- The International Committee of the Red Cross said that for the first 
time, its representatives visited Ukrainian prisoners of war that Russian 
forces are holding. Visits to Russian prisoners of war also took place. The Red 
Cross checked the prisoners' condition, gave them books, personal hygiene 
products, blankets and warm clothes, and contacted their relatives.

   -- A Russian ship-borne air defense system knocked down a drone in the area 
of Sevastopol, the Russian Black Sea Fleet's base, the regional governor said. 
Several attacks have been launched since the war began on Sevastopol, which is 
on the Crimean Peninsula, and the Black Sea Fleet.

   -- Russian officials said Ukrainian forces shelled the Belgorod province, 
which borders Ukraine. According to Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov, the shelling 
damaged power lines in Yakovlevo, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Ukrainian 
border. Though Gladkov did not report casualties or injuries, a local news 
Telegram channel reported a fire at a military base, with several Russian 
military personnel killed or wounded. Ukrainian officials maintained their 
policy of not commenting on cross-border attacks.

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