August 11, 2022

State Department demands Russia cease military activity around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

Institute for the Study of War

The US State Department called on Russian forces to cease all military activity surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and support the creation of a demilitarized zone amidst new reports of shelling at the ZNPP on August 11.[1] The US State Department also called on Russia to return control of the plant to Ukraine. 

Ukrainian and Russian occupation authorities accused each other of shelling the ZNPP on August 11. Ukraine’s nuclear operating enterprise Energoatom reported that Russian shelling damaged the area of the commandant’s office, storage of radiation sources, and the nearby fire station.[2] The fire station is approximately 5km east of the ZNPP. The Ukrainian Strategic Communications Center stated that Russian forces are deliberately staging provocations at the ZNPP and are carrying out dangerous experiments involving power lines to blame Ukrainian forces at the United Nations (UN) Security Council.[3] Russian-appointed Zaporizhia Oblast Occupation Administration Head Yevgeniy Balitsky claimed that Ukrainian shelling damaged the ”Kakhovskaya” high-voltage power line, resulting in a fire and a large cloud of smoke seen on social media footage from the city.[4]

Russian officials have previously accused Ukraine of striking positions of crucial significance to Ukrainians – such as the falsely-claimed HIMARS strike on the Olenivka colony in occupied Donetsk Oblast. CNN investigation concluded that “there is almost no chance that a HIMARS rocket caused the damage to the warehouse where the prisoners were being held.”[5] Russians may be continuing a similar narrative around the ZNPP to discourage further Western support to Ukraine. ISW cannot independently verify the party responsible for the shelling of the ZNPP.

Russia’s 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (64th SGMRB) of the 35th Combined Arms Army (CAA) has likely been destroyed in combat, possibly as part of an intentional Kremlin effort to conceal the war crimes it committed in Kyiv Oblast. Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFEFL) investigative journalist Mark Krutov conducted an investigation into the brigade following its participation in atrocities in Bucha and concluded that after heavy fighting on the Izyum and Slovyansk axes, the brigade has largely ceased to exist.[6] Krutov stated that out of 1,500 soldiers who were in the brigade before the war, 200 to 300 were likely killed.[7] Krutov quoted CNA Russia Studies director Michael Kofman’s estimates that the typical ratio for those killed to those wounded in action is around 1 to 3.5, which would mean that the 64th SGMRB suffered up to 700 to 1,000 wounded in action.[8] It is typical for Russian units that are so severely degraded during combat to be disbanded and survivors reallocated into other combat elements, but Krutov noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot disband the 64th SGMRB without embarrassment. Putin had awarded the brigade the honorary ”guards” designation on April 18, following the emergence of evidence that it had committed war crimes in Bucha.[9] The brigade was rushed back into combat in eastern Ukraine after it had completed its withdrawal from around Kyiv without much time to rest, refit, receive replacements, or recover. Speculation at the time ran that the Kremlin was eager to have the brigade destroyed in combat to avoid revelation of its war crimes.[10]  Note: This sentence previously incorrectly stated that the brigade completed its withdrawal from around Moscow instead of Kyiv.

Ukrainian intelligence warned that the Kremlin is setting conditions to launch an informational attack on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an effort to discredit him. The Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that the Russian Presidential Administration approved the creation of a new informational task force within the Russian special services responsible for establishing the fake “Zelensky Foundation.”[11] The foundation will feature an unspecified falsified proposal targeting foreign aid organizations and will operate as a ”multi-level marketing” scheme likely focusing on recruitment in European countries. The GUR noted that the main concept behind the foundation is to distribute misinformation in the European media sphere. The GUR noted that as of August 10, Russian special services had created a site for the foundation, prepared social media fake screenshots and comments, and established a network of bloggers to promote the foundation. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar echoed similar concerns that Russia has intensified its information operations by spreading rumors in an effort to create friction between Ukrainian military and political officials.[12]

A collection of complaints sent to the Russian military prosecutor’s office and verified by Bellingcat and the Insider included instances of Russian authorities tricking or coercing conscripts into taking combat positions, limiting the extent of information provided to the families of Russian soldiers, and failing to provide soldiers with basic food or medical care. The archive includes reports that Russian commanders have ordered soldiers to launch assaults with no equipment, refused to allow soldiers to quit or to dismiss them for clearly fileable offensives, and failed to notify soldiers’ relatives of their death.[13] The report also highlighted complaints from residents of occupied Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts that accused Russian forces of looting, trespassing, and firing military equipment from civilian infrastructure.

Ukrainian General Staff Main Operations Deputy Chief Oleksiy Gromov stated that Ukrainian forces were not responsible for explosions at the Zyabrovka airfield near Gomel, Belarus overnight on August 10-11.[14] The Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MOD) claimed that an inspection run caused an engine fire at the Zyabrovka airfield and that there were no casualties.[15] Senior Advisor to Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovkaya Franak Viacorka amplified local reports of at least eight explosions near the Zyabrovka airfield.[16] Social media video footage showed flashes near the airfield.[17]

Key Takeaways

  • The US State Department called on Russian forces to cease all military activity surrounding the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) amidst new reports of shelling at the ZNPP.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks east of Siversk and northeast and southeast of Bakhmut.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks on the north and southwestern outskirts of Donetsk City.
  • Ukrainian officials confirmed additional Ukrainian strikes on Russian command posts and ammunition depots along the Southern Axis.
  • Russia’s Khabarovsk Krai is forming two new volunteer battalions.
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