June 27, 2022

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Explained – Why did Russia capture Chernobyl, site of horrific nuclear incident

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Russia Ukraine crisis: After Putin’s forces captured Chernobyl, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country’s forces were fighting to ensure the horrors of 1986 would not be repeated.

Chernobyl – the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in April 1986 – is now under Russian control. Covered by a protective shell since a catastrophic leak spewed radioactive waste over thousands of square kilometres, the facility is located just north of Chernobyl town and near the city of Pripyat. The horrific nuclear disaster led to the full-scale evacuation of millions from both Chernobyl and Pripyat, and the actual number of deaths is still unknown.

After Russian forces captured the area, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country’s forces were fighting to ensure the horrors of 1986 would not be repeated. “… our defenders are giving their lives…” he said, adding “this a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”

Why has Russia captured Chernobyl?

1. The town of Chernobyl – now an abandoned shell of its former self – in northern Ukraine is just 10 miles from Ukraine’s border with Belarus, which is a key Russian ally. Military experts believe Russia moved to capture Chernobyl simply because it is one of the fastest land routes for invading forces.

2. Chernobyl was seen as an easy target because it is so close to the border and also because of the 2,600 square kilometre ‘exclusion zone’ that covers the area. The ‘exclusion zone’ means security there is much weaker than at other points along Ukraine’s international borders.

3. A former chief of the US Army, Jack Keane, said Chernobyl itself “doesn’t have any military significance” but is location makes it key for Russia’s “decapitation” strategy to oust the Ukrainian government, which is widely seen as Putin’s ultimate aim.

4. Keane identified the route as one of four ‘axes’ Russian forces have used to invade Ukraine; the others are a second vector from Belarus, an advance south into the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and a push north out of Russian-controlled Crimea to the city of Kherson.

5. Chernobyl is also seen as key because of its proximity to Kyiv; the town itself is just 130 kilometres from Ukraine’s capital.

6. Also, a Russian military source told news agency Reuters the capture of Chernobyl was meant to be a signal by Russia President Vladimir Putin to the West and NATO to not interfere with his plans.

7. Russia’s capture of the power plant is not to meant to ‘protect’ it, James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank told Reuters. “It was the quickest way from A to B.”

(With inputs from Reuters)

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