International observers at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which is occupied by Russia, have so far not seen any signs of mines being used by the occupiers. The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is permanently stationed in the nuclear power plant, has not yet been given access to some areas of the plant, said IAEA boss Rafael Grossi on Friday evening in Vienna. Parts of the turbine halls and the cooling system still need to be inspected, his report said.

Last week, the Ukrainian military intelligence service SBU said Russia had mined the nuclear power plant and was planning a terrorist attack there. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had also warned of such an attack. Moscow rejects such accusations and again claims that Ukraine is planning an attack to trigger a nuclear catastrophe.

“We take all these reports very seriously,” Grossi said about Ukraine’s allegations. The IAEA is “known” that mines used to be placed in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant and at certain points in the plant. On Friday, Grossi did not explain what information the IAEA had on this.

Shortly after the start of the war 16 months ago, Russian troops quickly occupied large parts of southern Ukraine, including important infrastructure objects such as the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. The situation around the nuclear power plant, which is close to the front and has come under fire several times, repeatedly raised concerns about a nuclear catastrophe.

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy emphasized the strength of his own armed forces in the fight against the Russian invasion. “Ukraine and the Ukrainians are much stronger than anyone expected of us, sometimes stronger than we thought we would be,” Zelenskyy said in his evening video message on Friday. The country showed the strength of Ukraine in the fight against the Russian invaders around the world. In the speech, Zelenskyy recalled the recapture of Snake Island in the Black Sea a year ago. “It was one of our most important victories.” This not only regained control of the island but of a significant part of the Black Sea.

Zelenskyi again said that Ukraine was making progress with its counteroffensive. “We have made progress in all directions with our active actions.” Strengthening the artillery in the south and east “obviously has priority,” Zelensky said. He also thanked Denmark for a new defense package, including artillery, anti-aircraft missiles and mine clearance equipment. Ukraine has been defending itself against the Russian invasion with Western help since February 24, 2022.

According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Kiev is fighting long-standing prejudices and misunderstandings about the consequences of his country joining NATO. NATO membership will not lead to another or major war with Russia, Kuleba said in an interview in Kiev with “Bild”, “Welt” and “Politico”. Rather, joining NATO is “the road to peace” – because Russia would not dare to attack a Ukraine that is a NATO member again.

Kuleba promised that Ukraine would then relieve Germany and other western NATO states in defending the eastern flank: “We will shoulder this burden.”

According to Kuleba, Ukraine does not expect to join NATO during the war. “But after the war, it would be suicidal for Europe not to accept Ukraine as a NATO member.” A Ukraine outside of NATO would mean that war was still an option. The only way to close the door on Russian aggression against Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area at large is for Ukraine to join NATO, he said.

With a view to the upcoming NATO summit in Lithuania in around two weeks, he warned the German government not to obstruct his country’s path to the alliance. He called on Berlin not to repeat the mistake “Chancellor Merkel made in Bucharest in 2008 when she fiercely opposed any progress towards Ukraine’s NATO membership.” That decision opened the door for Putin’s invasion of Georgia and eventually the illegal annexation of Crimea.

At the 2008 summit, the NATO states promised Ukraine membership, but then backed down out of consideration for Russia. Angela Merkel and France’s then President Nicolas Sarkozy blocked calls from other NATO partners for rapid accession.