Is Russia Planning to Steal Ukraine's Electricity?

One expert says it could be 'the biggest electricity heist ever'
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2022 3:25 PM CDT
Ukraine Says Russia Plans to Steal Electricity
A Russian serviceman stands guard in an area of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in territory under Russian military control on May 1, 2022. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the nuclear power plant, stoking international fears of a catastrophe on the continent.   (AP Photo, File)

Someone shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in southern Ukraine on Aug. 5, narrowly avoiding catastrophe. Russia and Ukraine have since traded blame, but the Wall Street Journal has analyzed damage to the plant using available imagery and accounts from locals, and the evidence suggests the shelling may have been part of an elaborate and deliberate Russian attempt to steal Ukrainian electricity. "What Russia is trying to do is the utility equivalent of annexation," as one expert put it. "This would be the biggest electricity heist ever," said another.

According to the WSJ, Ukrainian accounts suggest Russians at the plant knew about the attack beforehand. For example, officers from Russia’s state nuclear company "left the premises without explanation" prior to the shelling, and as the first rounds landed, Russian soldiers "moved calmly toward their bases." In a letter to the IAEA last week, Ukraine accused Russia of hitting specific infrastructure to "cause a blackout in the south of Ukraine." The WSJ’s findings suggest that's true, as the shells damaged a specific switchboard that triggered a shutdown of one of the last two power lines to southern Ukraine. There is also evidence that Russian technicians are taking steps to divert the plant’s power to Crimea and eventually to the Russian grid.

Stealing energy might not be Russia’s only objective. Per the Guardian, locals in Enerhodar, where Zaporizhzhia is located, said the Russians are preparing a "false flag" operation to trigger a nuclear disaster and blame it on Ukraine. For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that any Russian who attacked the plant or used it for cover would become a "special target." World leaders are calling for a "demilitarized zone" around the plant, and nuclear regulators are begging for access. "This is a serious hour, grave hour," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told the UN on Thursday, per CNN. "The IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission in Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible." Per Newsweek, Russia has denied all accusations and called Ukraine a "terrorist state" for attacking the plant. (More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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