French President Emmanuel Macron launched an impassioned defence of diplomacy in the face of conflict on Thursday as tension rose over the fate of Europe's largest nuclear power plant, which lies on the front line between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Speaking to French ambassadors in Paris, Mr Macron said “discussions with those we disagree with” were vital to preventing wider divisions in Europe in the face of fighting in Ukraine.
“We have to assume that we can always continue to talk to everyone, especially those with whom we do not agree,” he said. “Who wants Turkey to be the only power in the world that continues to talk to Russia?”
His comments came as UN inspectors arrived at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine after part of the facility was shut down following intense shelling.
Ukraine’s nuclear energy operator Energoatom confirmed that an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team was on site.
Mr Macron said France strongly supported the mission of the IAEA, which arrived at the plant on Thursday to to assess its safety.
“We cannot let Russia militarily win the war,” Mr Macron added. “We must get prepared for a long war. The division of Europe is one of Russia's war aims. It's a daily challenge.”
IAEA team members will assess the risk of a radiation disaster and secure the facility's safety, after it surfaced that one of the two operational reactors at the complex had been shut down because of shelling.
Energoatom said it was “the second time in 10 days” that shelling had forced the closure of a reactor.
The agency said the plant's emergency protection system had kicked in shortly before 5am and “operating power unit five was shut down” because of “another [Russian] mortar shelling”.
The backup power supply was damaged in the attack, it said.
The area around the plant ― Europe's largest nuclear facility ― has suffered repeated shelling, with both sides accusing the other of being responsible, sparking global concern over the risk of an accident.
“It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility … from any military operations,” International Committee of the Red Cross chief Robert Mardini said in Kyiv.
“The slightest miscalculation could trigger devastation that we will regret for decades.”
Russia accused Ukrainian forces earlier on Thursday of trying to attack the nuclear power plant before the visit by the IAEA team. Vladimir Rogov, a local Russian-installed official in Zaporizhzhia, told Russian state broadcaster RT that Ukrainian forces had launched an attack out of desperation over the IAEA visit.
But Oleksandr Starukh, Ukrainian head of the Zaporizhzhia region, said Russian troops were shelling the route the IAEA mission planned to take.
“The Russians are shelling the pre-agreed route of the IAEA mission from Zaporizhzhia to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The UN advance team cannot continue to move due to security reasons,” Mr Starukh said on the Telegram messaging app.