U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that Russian forces “are increasingly using brutal methods in Ukraine, including going at civilian populations.”
His comments followed a Russian attack on a Ukrainian nuclear plant — the largest facility of its kind in Europe — that had sparked a fire in a building at the plant compound.
Speaking to reporters before a meeting with his European Union counterparts in Brussels, Blinken said, “We are faced together with what is [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin’s war of choice: unprovoked, unjustified, and a war that is having horrific, horrific consequences.”
“We’re committed to doing everything we can to make it stop,” he added, but ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying such an action could lead to a broader conflict.
“We have a responsibility to ensure the war does not spill over beyond Ukraine. … A no-fly zone could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe,” he said.
The meeting in Brussels came after Ukraine accused Russia of “nuclear terror” for shelling and starting a fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant before taking control of it. The plant is in the city of Enerhodar, in the country’s southeast.
Ukraine’s nuclear inspectorate said that no radiation had leaked at the plant and that personnel were continuing to operate the facility safely. Firefighters were able to get the blaze under control, Ukrainian officials said.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the attack at the request of the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway and Albania.
“The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during the meeting. “We’ve just witnessed a dangerous new escalation that represents a dire threat to all of Europe and the world.”
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said a Russian “projectile” hit a training center at the plant.
“This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of the power plant attack before Friday’s meeting in Brussels with Blinken and EU foreign ministers.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov blamed the attack on a Ukranian “sabotage group” that he said had occupied the plant’s training building, attacked a Russian patrol and set the building on fire as it left. He offered no evidence, and no other country appeared to take the claim seriously.
The Zaporizhzhia facility produces about 25% of Ukraine’s power.
Nuclear safety experts have expressed concern that fighting so close to the power station could cut off the plant’s power supply, which would adversely affect its ability to keep nuclear fuel cool and would increase the possibility of a nuclear meltdown.
On the ground
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Friday that Russian ground forces were attacking a Ukrainian town near Odesa and that the United States was watching to see what it meant for the city.
A Russian convoy outside the capital, Kyiv, was still trying to reach the city, he said, but the “actions by the Ukrainians have in fact stalled that convoy … stopped it in some places.”
Ukraine’s use of its air and missile defenses has been “quite extraordinary,” Kirby said.
On Thursday, local Ukrainian government officials and the Russian military confirmed the seizure of the strategic port of Kherson, but a U.S. defense official said Washington was unable to confirm the development.
Russian troops were besieging the port city of Mariupol, east of Kherson, an attempt Mayor Vadym Boichenko said was aimed at isolating Ukraine.
A Russian diplomat said Friday that Russia had no intention of occupying Ukraine should its invasion be successful, and that its troops would withdraw once it had fulfilled its objective.
Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov called the invasion a “military operation with limited objectives,” which he said were to “denazify the regime and demilitarize Ukraine.”
Ukraine is a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust. Historians and political observers view Russia’s invocation of World War II as disinformation.
Possibility of more sanctions
Blinken said Friday that the United States was considering additional sanctions against Russia and had not ruled out anything.
“Nothing is off the table. We are evaluating the sanctions every day,” he said.
On Thursday, Washington heaped another round of sanctions on Putin’s inner circle.
“Today I’m announcing that we’re adding dozens of names to the list, including one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires, and I’m banning travel to America by more than 50 Russian oligarchs, their families and their close associates,” President Joe Biden said Thursday before a Cabinet meeting. “And we’re going to continue to support the Ukrainian people with direct assistance.”
VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin, Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, Istanbul Foreign Correspondent Heather Murdock, White House Correspondent Anita Powell and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.