Why does Putin want Chernobyl? Russia captures nuclear power plant in Ukraine
Ukrainian sources report that Russian tanks and military personnel have captured the Chernobyl NPP, suggesting that President Putin's aims in Ukraine go beyond the Donbas.
On Thursday afternoon Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak confirmed that Russian military forces had captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP), the site of the 1986 tragedy which is the most catastrophic nuclear accident in human history.
It was reported earlier today that a significant military presence, including tanks, had been seen at the site and there was a period of fighting between Russian forces and Ukrainian military personnel.
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Presidential advisor Podolyak said: “It is impossible to say the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is safe after a totally pointless attack by the Russians.”
He added: "This is one of the most serious threats in Europe today.”
Footage shared online and obtained by multiple news agencies appears to show Russian tanks on the tarmac at Chernobyl. The exact size of the military presence in the area is yet to be determined but the speed with which Ukrainian authorities announced that it had been taken could suggest that Ukraine was quickly outgunned.
Why would Russia want to control Chernobyl?
The exact reason for Russia’s offensive on the largely-abandoned area is at this stage still unknown but it marks another stage of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Russia had initially said that it was entering the Donbas separatist-led region on the east of Ukraine to provide ‘peacekeeping’ support but attacks are now being launched all across Ukrainian territory.
However the pace of the escalation in recent days certainly suggests that Putin’s ambitions in Ukriane go far beyond the separatist region in the east. Attacks have been launched on several major Ukrainian cities, including the capital of Kyiv.
Chernobyl sits to the north of Kyiv, on the border with Russia-friendly Belarus, where Putin has stationed a huge number of troops in recent weeks. A military offensive through Chernobyl would give him the most direct access to the Ukrainian capital and the largely deserted area should be fairly easy to pass given the extremely low population density.
There has also been some suggestion that the occupation of Chernobyl, a Cold War-era site, could be of symbolic importance to Putin or that it simply carries the threat of nuclear consequences if Russia’s military were to be targeted in that location.
But while Podolyak calls the attack “pointless” the capture of such an iconic and tragic location is clearly another issue for the Ukrainian authorities to be concerned with. Putin’s penchant for multifaceted military campaigns has allowed him to muddy the waters of diplomacy in recent weeks and the capture of the Chernobyl NPP appears to have caught Ukraine off-guard.