The shelling of a nuclear power plant in Ukraine by Russian troops is “a threat to European security and stability”, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said.
Speaking in Brussels, where ministers from across the West are gathering today to discuss how to respond to Russian aggression, Ms Truss told broadcasters that those responsible for the “completely reckless act” must be “held to account”.
A fire broke out in the attack on the southeastern city of Energodar and its Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as the Ukraine invasion entered its second week.
Local politicians initially said that firefighters were unable to get close to the scene because they were being shot at – but a team of 40 people and 10 units have now extinguished the blaze which was at a training building.
Ukrainian officials have said there is a “real threat of nuclear danger”, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warning: “If it blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chernobyl.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the fire has not affected essential equipment or caused radiation levels to change.
Truss: Nuclear plant shelling a ‘completely reckless attack’
Asked how concerned she is about the incident, Ms Truss told broadcasters: “Well this was a completely reckless act.
“We’ve heard now that the fire has been extinguished, but it is extremely concerning that forces are prepared to do this. We have called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.
“This is a threat to European security and stability and we need those responsible to be held to account.”
The foreign secretary added that she and her counterparts will use today’s meeting in Brussels to show “the strength of our unity in challenging Vladimir Putin“.
• Putin insists Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is ‘going to plan’
• There has been fierce fighting between local forces and Russian troops on the outskirts of Energodar – with casualties reported
• President Zelenskyy says only ‘urgent action by Europe’ can stop the Russians
• Russian forces continue to claim control of the southern port city of Kherson
• Mariupol, the main port on the Sea of Azov, remains surrounded by Russian forces and under heavy bombardment
“We are doing all we can to support the Ukrainians through defensive weapons where the UK led – we were the first European country to donate defensive weapons – and we are also going to be talking about sanctions,” she said.
“We have been very co-ordinated in sanctions, we have shown huge unity, it is having a big effect in Russia – but we now need to do more.
“We particularly need to look at the oil and gas sector, how do we reduce our dependence across Europe on Russian gas, how do we cut off the funding to Vladimir Putin’s war machine? That is what I am going to be advocating at both the G7 and the discussions with the EU.”
UK has ‘led the way’ with sanctions
The foreign secretary also hit back at criticism that the UK government has been too slow in implementing a rigorous sanction regime, stating that the country has “led the way in sanctions” and is “doing more than our counterparts” in bank freezes.
“What I am doing is looking at how we can speed up that process to make even more progress on that front,” she said.
Earlier, Deputy PM Dominic Raab also defended the UK government’s sanction scheme, saying it was “having a real impact”.
“We will continue to starve the finances that fund Putin’s war machine, and support Ukrainians in their courageous defence against this illegal invasion,” he continued.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the overnight attack on a nuclear plant in Ukraine as “deeply alarming”.
“I think the whole world will be shocked. I think it’s very important that we unite now and renew that message that Russia must withdraw,” he said.
“We need a ceasefire – and we need to stop this aggression from Russia because this escalation is deeply, deeply concerning.”
Patel to visit Ukrainian refugees
Meanwhile, as Ms Truss prepares to meet her counterparts in Brussels, Home Secretary Priti Patel will meet Ukrainians trying to flee to the UK as she faces calls to extend visas to all fleeing the war zone.
The home secretary will be in Poland today to launch the Ukraine family scheme to allow Britons and those settled in the UK to bring their relatives over to join them.
However, Labour said the government needs to go further by introducing a “simple emergency visa available to all Ukrainians that need sanctuary and protection in the UK”.
Ms Patel is travelling to Medyka in eastern Poland on the border with Ukraine to see the situation for herself.
Ahead of the visit, she said: “The British government will do everything it can to support the Ukrainian people at this critical moment as they fight for freedom.
“I have developed the Ukraine family scheme following discussions with the Ukrainian government and neighbouring countries and I am proud to have launched it within a matter of days, enabling Ukrainians with family in the United Kingdom to be welcomed safely, quickly and free of charge.”
However, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for a more flexible “emergency protection visa” valid for 12 months for everyone fleeing Ukraine, whether they have relatives in the UK or not.