In early March 2022, Russian forces took control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant just across the Dnipro River from the city of the same name.
It is one of the world’s ten largest of its kind, and during the war was the subject of one of Europe’s largest nuclear crises since the Chernobyl disaster.
Experts and state leaders held their breath as the area around Enerhodar was bombed continuously for a long time.
Now recent satellite imagery shows that Russia has stationed soldiers over the reactor, which it describes as the first real example of a power plant being used in tactical battle planning.
The power plant was completely shut down in September. In recent months, two of the reactors have undergone so-called warm shutdowns, which, according to the Directorate of Radiation Protection (DSA) and nuclear safety, made it possible to supply steam to the entire plant and heat to Enerhodar, the nearest town.
Both the DSA and a number of international experts have pointed out that Russian troops have over time built up arsenals at power plants with the aim of using them as “shields” when firing rockets.
The UK Ministry of Defense regularly releases intelligence reports from Russia and Ukraine.
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Shared satellite image
On Thursday morning, they announced in a report that Russian troops had taken up positions over several reactors at the plant. They have shared satellite imagery by private intelligence firm Maxar, which it says shows Russian defensive positions with sandbags over the six reactor buildings at the power plant.
According to the report, this is the first real indication that the reactor building has been used in concrete tactical planning.
– Russia may have prepared this position in anticipation of a major strike announced from Ukraine, the report says.
According to British intelligence, the decision would greatly increase the chances of the plant’s security systems being damaged in a battle near the power plant.
At the same time, they considered the possibility of catastrophic destruction to be small.
– This would be impossible in the most plausible scenario, as the building was very heavily constructed, the report says.
According to the ISW think tank, a Russian military blogger argues that defensive positions should be strengthened precisely at the power plant, in the face of a potential Ukrainian advance across the river, effectively dividing the front in two.
A Ukrainian retaliatory strike had been warned for a long time, and a number of weapons shipments from the West have now taken place.
17 people were killed on Friday in a series of missile attacks on territory controlled by Ukraine. According to Reuters, this was the largest Russian attack in two months.
Just hours later, Kyiv issued a statement that preparations for the announced spring offensive would be completed soon.
– As soon as God wills, the weather permits and the generals decide, we will take action, said Defense Minister of Ukraine Oleksiy Reznikov in a press conference on Friday.
He pointed to Western arms shipments now arriving in the war-torn country at a rapid pace.
– Modern weapons will be like an iron fist, Reznikov said according to Reuters.
The goal of the long-announced counteroffensive is to expel the Russians from the territory they occupy.
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Controversy about ability
However, there is uncertainty as to how effective the announced counterattack will actually be.
In leaked US intelligence documents from early April, grave doubts were expressed about Ukraine’s offensive capabilities on the battlefield.
in document, like the Washington Post has gained access to, it said that Ukraine would only make “modest territorial advances” in the offensive.
American intelligence pointed to significant failures in Ukraine’s ability to gather men and equipment, and believed these problems could make it more difficult for the Ukrainians to achieve their objectives. The appraisal date is from February, and the leak is now being investigated by US authorities.
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