Russia wants to cut Ukraine off from its nuclear power plant in Zaporijjia, the largest in Europe, occupied by the Russian army, unless Kyiv pays Moscow for the electricity produced, said Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khousnullin.
This statement joins those of other Russian officials in recent weeks who suggest that Russia is preparing a long-term occupation or even annexation of the areas of southern Ukraine it controls, the Kherson region, and a significant part of that Zaporizhia.
“If Ukraine's energy system is ready to take and pay, then (the plant) can run for Ukraine. If (Ukraine) does not accept, then (the power station) will turn for Russia”, declared Mr. Khousnoulline, during a displacement Wednesday on the site of the nuclear installation, reported the Russian agencies.
"We have a lot of experience with nuclear power plants, we have companies in Russia that have this experience, there is no doubt that (the one in Zaporizhia) will continue to work," he said.
The Ukrainian nuclear agency Energoatom assured Thursday morning that the plant was still supplying Ukraine with electricity.
In 2021, i.e. before the Russian offensive against Ukraine launched on February 24, 2022, the plant represented 20% of Ukraine's annual electricity production and 47% of that produced by the Ukrainian nuclear fleet.
Moscow forces took control in early March of this plant located in the city of Energodar, in southern Ukraine, separated by the waters of the Dnieper from the regional capital Zaporijjia, still under Ukrainian control.
The clashes that took place there in the early days of the conflict raised fears of a possible nuclear disaster in the country where a reactor exploded in 1986 at Chernobyl.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khousnullin further asserted that Russia was here to stay, hinting that annexation was an option.
“I see the future of this region as working within the friendly Russian family. That's why I came, to help the integration as much as possible," he said.
Russian officials and pro-Russian authorities put in place by Moscow also said last week that the Ukrainian region of Kherson was most likely to be annexed by Russia.
Russia's control of the Sea of Azov coastline (Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Donestk) including the port of Mariupol, provides a land bridge to connect Russian territory to the Crimean peninsula which it annexed in 2014.
By launching his offensive, Vladimir Putin had assured that Russia was not going to occupy Ukrainian territories.