The IAEA could visit the nuclear power plant in early September, a senior Russian diplomat suggests FILE PHOTO. Staff from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Chernobyl, Ukraine. ©John Moore / Getty Images

The UN nuclear watchdog could send an inspection team to the Russia-controlled Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine in as soon as two weeks, a senior Russian diplomat said on Friday.

“Forecasts don’t always come true, but my sense is that it can happen in early September,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said during a media briefing.

The Russian diplomat stressed that the proposed timeline is conditional on non-interference by “external factors that have nothing to do with the goals of the IAEA visit.” The mission should have been launched in June, he explained, but the plan failed, and “in a sense, things have to be done from scratch now.”

The Zaporozhye plant is located in the Ukrainian city of Energodar, and is controlled by Russian troops, although its civilian operators are Ukrainian. Over the past month, it has come under a series of attacks, which Russia has blamed on Ukrainian forces.

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Kiev has denied responsibility and accused Russia of shelling the nuclear site to discredit Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have also claimed that Russia is using the plant as a military base, keeping heavy weapons on site and carrying out artillery strikes against Ukrainian troops from the facility. The Russian Defense Ministry has said the only Russian forces present at the plant are lightly armed guards.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has said he wants to personally lead a fact-finding mission to the Zaporozhye plant. Both Moscow and Kiev have expressed their support for such a visit, despite near-daily reports of shelling in Energodar.

“It appears that the Ukrainans are trying to prevent the mission from happening,” Ulyanov said during the briefing.

The UN previously suggested that the entire area around the city should be demilitarized, but Russia insisted the proposal was not viable, claiming that Ukrainian forces cannot be trusted to abide by such an agreement.

By withdrawing forces from Energodar, Russia would expose the nuclear power plant to increased risks, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. (RT)