Russia blocks UN nuclear treaty agreement due to Zaporizhzhia clause

·3-min read
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant near Enerhodar (REUTERS)
Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant near Enerhodar (REUTERS)

Russia has blocked an agreement at the United Nations that was considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament because it objected to a clause about control over the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine.

Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, told the delayed final meeting of the conference reviewing the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty that “unfortunately there is no consensus on this document.”

He insisted that many countries — not just Russia — didn’t agree with “a whole host of issues” in the 36-page last draft.

The final document needed approval of all countries at the conference which are party to the treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons.

But Russia refused to agree to a lenghty statement in support for the NPT which included a reference to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces close to the frontline in Ukraine’s south-east since March.

Sarah Bidgood, the director of the Eurasia nonproliferation program at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, insisted that despite failing to come to an agreement, there was still hope.

She added, however: “The bigger takeaway for me is just how far-reaching the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine has become.

“Even at some of the darkest moments of the cold war, cooperation in support of the NPT was often possible. But what we saw at the final plenary today does not bode well for the future of nuclear diplomacy, including on issues like arms control.”

A paragraph in the final draft text on Friday stressed “the paramount importance of ensuring control by Ukraine’s competent authorities of nuclear facilities … such as the Zaporizhzia nuclear power plant”.

The Russian delegation spoke out against the agreed text and blamed the breakdown of the conference on Ukraine and its “protectors”, calling the negotiations a “one-sided game”. After delivering its statement, the Russian delegation walked out of the UN chamber.

The NPT review conference is supposed to be held every five years but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This marked the second failure of its 191 state parties to produce an outcome document.

The last review conference in 2015 ended without an agreement because of serious differences over establishing a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said the lack of action was inexcusable at a time of heightened risk.

"This result is terminally unserious and a total abdication of responsibility in the face of an unacceptably dangerous global situation," the group’s Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said.

"The nuclear-armed states have not only failed to make progress on their disarmament obligations but have spent over $82 billion on maintaining and upgrading their arsenals, when the risk of use of nuclear weapons is higher than ever, the failure of the review conference to take any action is inexcusable," Ms Fihn added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Europe narrowly avoided a massive radiation disaster on Thursday when the Russian-occupied nuclear plant was disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid.

It was only because back-up electricity supplies kicked in that the Zaporizhzhia power station was able to operate safely, he said.

Ukraine’s nuclear agency said nearby fires damaged overhead electricity lines, causing the complex to lose its main power supply.

Mr Zelensky blamed it on Russian shelling, and accused Moscow of putting Ukraine and Europe "one step away" from disaster. The nuclear site has been occupied by Russian military forces since early March but is operated by Ukrainian technicians.

It comes as reports claim residents near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are being handed iodine tablets in case of a radiation leak.