"Russia is in a state of affect, especially after the failed Prigozhin mutiny. And this will only get worse," Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the presidential office, tells LIGA.net.
"Russia understands that it has no tools left but terrorist ones. And we should not wait until it acts."
Andrius Kubilius, an MEP and Lithuania’s former prime minister, does not doubt that only the deployment of international forces to the Zaporizhzhia plant can change the situation.
"Nothing else will stop the Kremlin," he told LIGA.net.
Why has Ukraine intensified its rhetoric regarding the Zaporizhzhia NPP, how the West has (not) reacted so far, and what is the five-point plan for preventing a catastrophe that Kyiv has proposed?
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‘Tensions are rising’
Since the first days of the full-scale war, Russia has been using the Zaporizhzhia NPP as a military base.
After the Russians blew up the Nova Kakhovka dam, the rhetoric regarding the plant escalated – at first because of the possible shallowing of its cooling pond, and later, when Ukraine found out the plant had been mined.
Apart from that, there are several disturbing signs urging Kyiv to be more proactive, Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the chief of the presidential office, explains.
First, it is the lack of a proper legal response to Russia’s blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant.
"There were no consequences for Russia: no additional sanctions, no UN meetings... We need legal action against Russia, up to and including its recognition as a terrorist state," Mr Podoliak tells LIGA.net. "This would dramatically reduce their manoeuvre."
The blowing up of the Kakhovka dam was akin to the use of weapons of mass destruction, Andrius Kubilius, an MEP and Lithuania’s former prime minister, believes. International law, he adds, provides for how to respond to situations like this, but nothing has been done.
That Russia has not been recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism is also worriying to Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s former foreign minister. However, he says that such a status would instantly cut off any and all channels of communication with Russia.
"It is important for the US and Europeans to talk to Russia, for instance about strategic arms control," Mr Klimkin explains to LIGA.net.
Another disturbing sign is constant missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, Mr Podoliak explains, which shows that Russia has decided it will use terrorist tools until the end of the war.
And, finally, the abortive mutiny staged by the Wagner Group last week has exposed the fragility of the Russian government.
It is unclear who can make decisions about nuclear arsenals and the blowing up of large facilities in Ukraine – or even in Russia itself, Mr Podoliak says.
"After this Prigozhin mutiny, it is quite obvious that Russia is becoming absolutely unpredictable, a country that can go for absolute cruelty, terrorist attacks, explosions at nuclear power plants, or something else," Mr Kubilius adds.
Last week, Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukriaine’s military intelligence, GUR, warned of additional mining of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, including the cooler. He later added that Russia had completed preparations for a terrorist attack, having placed explosives near four of the six power units.
"The situation had never been so serious," Mr Budanov said.
Ukrainian intelligence updated the parliamentary national security committee on the situation at ZNPP, its secretary Roman Kostenko says.
"As for the predictions of a possible explosion, it is a catastrophe... The consequences could be serious – not only for Ukraine but also for European countries," he told LIGA.net.
Rafael Grossi, the chief of the UN’s atomic energy agency, has confirmed that there are mines at the plant, but said he "did not see" them near the cooling pond. Ukraine’s interior ministry, meanwhile, has already deployed command centres in case of an accident.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking to convey the seriousness of the situation to his partners.
He has spoken to G7 ambassadors, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and Polish and Lithuanian leaders Andrzej Duda and Gitanas Nausėda, but admitted that so far the partners have not paid enough attention.
The West is (not) reacting
The full picture might just not be seen, Oleksandr Merezhko, the chairman of the parliamentary foreign policy committee, says. He assumes some of the communication about Russia’s planned terrorist attack might be off the record.
Publicly, statements about the ZNPP are currently made mostly at the parliamentary level.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has passed a resolution recognising Russia’s intention to blow up the ZNPP, which would pose a threat to the entire continent.
"This amendment was included by voice vote," Mr Merezhko, who is a member of the Ukrainian delegation, clarifies.
Across the pond, US senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal proposed that any use of nuclear weapons by Russia or its proxies be considered an attack on NATO, triggering the collective defence clause.
Messrs Merezhko and Kostenko believe a similar logic should apply to a potential terrorist attack on the Zaporizhzhia NPP.
US senators are well aware of the nature of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Mr Podoliak says, but there are doubts that their initiative will be eventually passed.
"Such a law would drastically sober up the Russian Federation. But I very much doubt that such well-intentioned radical initiatives will be approved until Ukraine wins the war," he admits.
On a higher level, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was one of the few to speak, assuring Warsaw was doing everything possible to exert more pressure on Russia.
White House’s John Kirby said that the United States is closely monitoring the situation but has not yet seen any signs that the threat is inevitable.
According to Mr Podoliak, Ukraine’s partners understand the Russians are capable of using the mining of critical infrastructure facilities to hinder the counteroffensive, but global powers such as the US are not resorting to harsher rhetoric to leave at least some room for dialogue.
"Our rhetoric is also clear. We are directly in the affected area. Our intelligence is monitoring the processes around the Zaporizhzhia NPP more intensively and deeply," he explains.
Five steps to make Russia regret
Non-public contacts and statements by MPs are not enough, says Mr Merezhko.
"We need preventive measures, including statements by the ‘nuclear club’ states, an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, tighter sanctions and isolation of Russia, and the IAEA’s response," he adds.
Kyiv is trying to convey to its partners that it is necessary to prevent the catastrophe rather than respond to it, and has offered a five-point plan.
1. Sanctions against Rosatom
Russia’s state nuclear energy agency is now not excluded from the global market, Mr Podoliak explains, meaning it can still build nuclear power plants, sell raw materials, purchase technologies, and generate the lion’s share of Russia’s foreign revenues.
2. Nuclear safety summit
The summit should see the countries, especially the nuclear ones, declare their position on the use of both tactical nuclear weapons and the explosion at the ZNPP for military benefit.
"A summit with a public reaction and a resolution would be good," the Ukrainian official adds.
3. UN hearing
Although Russia is using the UN Security Council as a propaganda platform, Mr Podoliak believes it would be advisable to hold a UN hearing on the issue to underscore the inadmissibility of using nuclear technology in war and its legal consequences.
4. Informal contacts with nuclear countries, including China and India
"We need to strengthen communication with China and India to put additional pressure on the Kremlin to avoid nuclear provocations," Ms von Cramon adds.
"Although China and India have not condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and are partly profiting from the war, they clearly understand that any nuclear provocation will exponentially reduce global security."
Mr Kostenko says it is necessary to work with other states, such as Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries which may also be affected by a potential catastrophe.
"Perhaps Russia will somehow listen to them as well, for fear of losing at least some partners," the MP explains.
5. IAEA’s wider involvement
Expanding the number and level of the IAEA mission at the Zaporizhzhia NPP may work – at least partially, Mr Klimkin believes.
"To create a security zone and withdraw Russian troops from the ZNPP and leave operational control over the site and the area around it to the IAEA," he adds.
The Ukrainian side has already proposed a similar plan to the IAEA chief, Mr Podolyak says, involving the withdrawal of Russian troops and equipment and the establishment of a 30-kilometre demilitarised zone around the station.
"But there is little hope for the IAEA, this organisation is in a deplorable state."
More radical steps
Only the protection of the ZNPP by international troops can truly guarantee nuclear safety, Mr Kubilius is convinced, adding the Kremlin will not be stopped by anything else.
While Mr Kubilius admits that the idea is pure theory at the moment, he stresses that in order to achieve such a solution, the Western community needs to realise the danger it and Ukraine are facing.
"We can make harsh statements against Mr Putin’s policy, but this will not change the situation," he concludes.
"Yes, the idea of peacekeepers is theoretical. But we have to speak out loudly about it, and I am taking this opportunity. What can change the situation is the removal of Russian control over the ZNPP."