As the year comes to an end, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Rafael Grossi is working to secure Ukraine’s nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia against further military assaults. His aim in shuttling between Kyiv and Moscow is to get Putin and Zelenskyy to agree to an international demilitarized safety zone around the embattled plant.
Most experts welcome this. But, as Tom Grant and I argue in the attached piece, “An UNsafety Zone for the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant?,” which The National Interest just published, an agreement could prove perilous.
To Grossi’s credit, he has publicly stated Ukraine is the plant’s rightful owner. Russia disagrees. If all sides are too eager to get to “yes” on creating a zone, though, they might well defer the vexatious issue of ownership.
That would be a mistake. In 2014, France and Germany negotiated the Minsk Agreements that created an international line of control in the Donbas. This understanding consciously dodged addressing Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial rights. The agreements immediately calmed hostilities but failed to end Russian military meddling in the region. Worse, Russia built up forces in the Donbas and earlier this year staged attacks on Ukraine from this supposedly demilitarized line of control.
No one, of course, would argue Putin would achieve similar military advantages in keeping the status of the Zaporizhzhia plant’s ownership in dispute. But, there is no question that deferring the question of the plant’s ownership would enable Putin to continue to insist that the plant is Russian property. Putin could even continue to do so if Ukrainian forces recaptured the plant (which now is a possibility).
To be clear, Tom and I see value in creating demilitarized zones per se and offer a successful historical example. But while creating such zones can help where the parties use it primarily to achieve physical safety; it is risky, we argue, “where one party seeks to use the zone as leverage to pursue other political and territorial aims.” That, unfortunately, is precisely what Putin is now attempting to do in claiming that the plant is his when it clearly is not. Any safety zone that’s worthy of the name should not allow that.
December 27, 2022
Author: Henry Sokolski & Thomas D. Grant
As Ukrainians brace for a cold, dark winter and more Russian attacks against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Rafael Grossi is upbeat, working feverishly to secure Ukraine’s largest electrical generator—the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. His hope is that Russia and Ukraine will agree to create a demilitarized safety zone around the embattled plant. Grossi has spoken to both leaders; he believes he can reach an agreement by New Year’s.
There are only two problems. First, the three parties might not reach an agreement. Second, they might reach an agreement but in doing so fail to clarify who actually owns the plant. The second possibility, which few have thought about, could prove to be worse than the first.
Grossi says Russia and Ukraine have already agreed that neither side should “shoot at the facility, nor from the facility” and that the IAEA “represents the only possible way” to keep the plant safe. Rosatom chief Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative to the IAEA, says Russia supports creating a safety zone. The only thing holding things up, he claims, is Ukraine.
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