Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, warns of a dangerous escalation. Translation of the article from the New Statesman.
On June 23, in an interview with the New Statesman, Kirill Budanov warned that Russia had completed preparations for an attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the southeast of the country. According to Budanov, who heads the Main Directorate of Military Intelligence, the station’s cooling pond was mined by Russian troops. Without cooling, nuclear reactors can melt down in a period of ten hours to 14 days. He believes that Russia will be able to increase the voltage in the power lines at the plant, which will lead to a nuclear accident at the bottom of this time frame. As Budanov said during the interview, “technical means can be used to accelerate the disaster.”
Ukrainian military intelligence was also able to establish that Russian troops had moved vehicles packed with explosives to four of the six power units. It is not known whether the International Atomic Energy Agency was granted access to these units during its visit on June 15.
On June 22, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an alarming public statement that an attack on Zaporizhzhia could happen at any moment. The intelligence came from the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine. The prospect of a provocative incident has been raised before, but Budanov believes that this time is different. “The situation has never been as serious as it is now,” he said. Zelensky added that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine was instructed to prepare the population on how to respond to a nuclear disaster.
Journalists asked the head of Ukrainian intelligence whether a decision had been made to blow up the power plant. He is confident that the plan is fully “developed and approved.” The only element missing is the order to act.
Then it can happen in a matter of minutes
Whether the order comes depends on how Russia sees the potential benefits of a nuclear disaster in southern Ukraine. Budanov told me there were two possibilities. The first is to blow up the power plant if its forces are pushed off the left bank of the Dnipro. Then Russia will create a zone of destruction and alienation to prevent Ukraine from moving forward. This strategy can also serve as a threat not to attack Russian positions.
The second possibility is that Russia could use a nuclear disaster as a “preventive measure,” according to Budanov. The goal in this case would be to stop Ukraine’s offensive before it begins and freeze the line of contact as it exists. If Russia is convinced that it cannot stop the Ukrainian offensive in any other way, it will activate what Zelensky called a “terrorist attack with a radiation leak” in his address.
There is disappointment in Ukrainian intelligence and government circles that the international community’s response to the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on June 6 was so muted, and that this could provoke further use of scorched earth tactics.