ITV says (yesterday) that

Russia and Ukraine trade blame over shelling near Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Call me a Russian stooge if you will, but - Russia holds the plant, the surrounding grounds and the nearby town (Energodar). And it's not like the front line is right near the plant, so that a Russian shell targeting Ukranian forces is statistically likely to land on the NPP grounds, right?

So, what kind of argument can be made for any party other than Ukraine being responsible for shelling the plant?

I suppose theoretically there could be an accusation of a false-flag operation, but I don't know that such a claim has been made.


3 Answers 3


Other than Ukraine?

Simples, ZPP is on Ukrainian territory and Ukraine is well-acquainted with nuclear disasters. If something was to happen that went seriously wrong and released radiation Ukraine would be living with the long term aftermath. Russia, on the other hand, has a large safety buffer since the border is about 200km away.

To be honest, like a lot of things in this war, the ZPP situation is long on claims and short on verifiable facts. Both sides have a vested interest in making the other look bad and ZPP integrity, as it concerns a nuclear plant, is a good way to seed FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt), especially to European countries.

Still, in the lack of definitive info, if deliberate targeting is happening, common sense would indicate that:

  • if there is actual unprovoked shelling of the ZPP, Ukraine has the most to lose.

  • if there is counter battery fire, from Ukraine to the ZPP, Russia can simply avoid it by demilitarizing the immediate surroundings as it has been asked to do.

Finally, Russia holds the area and has yet to allow inspectors in (a team is supposed to be going in, as of Aug 29th, with shelling reports dating back from July 16th). Why all the foot-dragging if Ukraine is at fault? Seems like an easy win.

About that foot-dragging, and the lack of hard facts, here's the BBC write up for the announced inspection, 6 weeks after first shelling reports:

Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for strikes that caused the damage. The BBC was not able to independently verify which side was responsible.

Russia's military took over the plant in early March, but it is still being operated by Ukrainian staff under difficult conditions.

The Kremlin had previously signalled that it would only allow international inspectors to visit the complex so the IAEA's visit will mark an important moment in being able to verify what is happening on the ground.

Ukraine had feared an IAEA mission to Zaporizhzhia would legitimise the Russian occupation of the nuclear plant, before finally backing a visit.

i.e. Ukraine is also playing to the gallery. But, again, who has the most to lose in case of radiation leaks?

Last, ZPP is on the east side of the river, at a very wide location. It doesn't have to be "defended" by Russia. And Ukraine has no reason to shoot at it in order to weaken the defenders capable of contesting the crossing - they won't be crossing there. Might be, at most, that Ukraine is targeting Russian troops and ammo using the plant as a hostage shield. IF so, that's a risk they probably shouldn't be taking, but "good Russia" could always not put its troops there.

Honestly, it's one of those things where we won't be knowing until we have harder info and neither party can be trusted not to engage in propaganda (it's wartime). However we can look at the wider patterns of behavior in this war to see who is the least credible of the two, which country tends not care overmuch about collateral damage and which country tends be less than entirely truthful.

  • It seems Russia has allowed an IAEA delegation in. Of course, they should have done that immediately - in fact, they should have coordinated with IAEA even before taking over the plant. Other than that I'd +1 you.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:29
  • Ah, this is today? Still, this ZPP charade has been going on for 2-3 weeks by now. Let's see what comes out of the inspection before saying it has been inspected, credibly. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:30
  • Got your +1 and indeed we shall see... or perhaps we won't see and no side would try shelling ZNPP while the IAEA is there.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 21:52
  • Your whole analysis is based on a 200km buffer zone, which isn't material. If Zaporizhzhya NPP melts down the only freshwater supply to Crimea, Russia is gone. The inlet to the North Crimean Canal (the water supply) is in Nova Kakhovka which is 80km away from Crimea and down river to the NPP. Not to mention, aside a physical buffer, Russia attacking the plant to create a problem doesn't make much sense when Russia is allowing the IAEA in to stop a problem. That is to say, the ones targeting the NPP seem unlikely to be Russia. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 14:43
  • Crimea is not Russia. Good try tho. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 17:24

I think we can exclude any third party. But you seem to assume that it is an accidental Ukrainian strike, which is only one out of four theoretical options (six if you reintroduce the third party):

  1. Russia could be deliberately shelling a Russian-held nuclear power plant on Ukrainian soil and blame Ukraine to create Western pressure on Ukraine to cease fighting. Note that Russian media appears to be talking a lot about nuclear warfare risks, and that it would be in the Russian interest to increase the European anxiety levels.
    Variant/special case: Not an artillery strike, but a fake. Similar propaganda effect, slightly less risk of getting a major disaster. That should come out if-and-when the IAEA delegation is allowed in.
  2. Ukraine could be deliberately shelling a Russian-held nuclear power plant on Ukrainian soil and blame Russia to increase Western pressure/sanctions on Russia. Ukraine is dependent on Western aid, and getting less than it says it really needs.
  3. Russia could be accidentally shelling a Russian-held nuclear power plant on Ukrainian soil in an attempt to hit Ukrainian forces some distance apart.
  4. Ukraine could be accidentally shelling a Russian-held nuclear power plant on Ukrainian soil in an attempt to hit Russian forces nearby.

I find explanations 3 and 4 unlikely. Both sides should have sufficient maps and GPS/Glonass that they should know what they're hitting, but it might be that they're running out of trained artillerymen who can aim a howitzer.

That leaves explanations 1 and 2, both involving deliberate actions to influence public opinion. As mentioned, both sides have possible motives, but it seems to me that risking a nuclear accident on the own territory is even more insane than risking one nearby. (However, a delibetate strike may be trying to produce headlines without an actual release. How risk-tolerant are the two sides?) So it comes down to which side you think is lying. I have my opinion on that.


It's hard to find verifiable information, but "napromieniowani.pl", a group of enthusiast who have visited Chernobyl for years and have a lot of contacts in Ukraine in Chernobyl zone and in ZPP claim, that during 3 weeks of shelling not a single Russian soldier, not a single Russian vessel was affected. All casualties were Ukrainian. Strange, isn't it? Source (in Polish)

Russia benefits from spreading fear of nuclear power and weapons. If they did not keep threatening with their nuclear arsenal, world's reaction to their crimes on Ukraine would be much firmer. If fear of nuclear power plants was not so common in Germany, the Russian gas wouldn't be so essential to European energetic safety. So Russia benefits from fears caused by this shelling.

  • So, they verify that shelling has occurred? Because one of the possibilities is that shelling was reported, but didn't actually take place. Also, are there other sources which have reported this?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 8:07
  • @einpoklum From linked article: "The Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant has been working quietly since Ukraine gained independence until this year. There have never been any serious incidents. These began on March 4, when the power plant was attacked and shelled by the troops of the Russian Federation (which was documented in the recordings). Since then, provocations have taken place on site on a regular basis, and they have intensified over the past two weeks." 1/2 Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:17
  • "Each time the shots are fired from areas occupied by Russia, where no Ukrainian troops can be present. However, the Russians set their firing points in such a way as to simulate firing from the Ukrainian side, as reported by the inhabitants of the vicinity and the employees of the Zaporizhia NPP." 2/2 Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:18
  • So, that seems to conflate the time before the Russian occupation of the plant and the region, and recent days.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:19
  • 1
    @Fizz but they are not referring official Russian statements, but reports of local people - 2 plant workers killed since March 4, 10 Ukrainian civilians wounded in attack on Aug 28, no Russian soldier harmed during last 2 weeks. Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 10:42

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