Rafael Grossi claimed an agreement might be reached “by the end of the year” FILE PHOTO: A Russian military convoy on the road toward the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant in Energodar, Zaporozhye, May 1, 2022 © AP

Any deal for the “protection” of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) will involve the withdrawal of Russia’s arms from it, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi has stated. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the site.

Speaking to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on Friday, Grossi said that a deal to establish a ‘safe zone’ around the plant could be reached “by the end of the year.”

The Ukrainian side is pushing for “the withdrawal of armaments” from the facility, Grossi continued, adding that such a pullback “would in any case be part of the general agreement.”

The largest nuclear power facility in Europe, the Zaporozhye plant was seized by Russian troops shortly after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine in late February. The wider region of Zaporozhye, along with three other former Ukrainian territories, eventually joined Russia after holding referendums in September.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in October declaring Russian ownership over the plant. Moscow also stated last month that it is open to establishing a demilitarized “security zone” around it, as long as an international monitoring mechanism were put in place.

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Without such a mechanism, any agreement would be treated like “an empty sheet of paper” by Kiev, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to international organizations in Vienna, said in November.

Russia has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of shelling the plant, and Moscow’s troops have thwarted numerous attempts by Ukraine to retake the facility. Last month, Russian security services said they had foiled a planned “terrorist attack” on the plant orchestrated by the Ukrainian government.

Grossi would not say whether he thinks Russia will agree to pull back its weapons, saying only that “Russia is not against an agreement and the principle of plant protection.”

The IAEA head added that he hopes to meet Putin, as well as Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, before a deal is agreed. (RT)