Russia has formally taken over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which it has occupied militarily since early March, according to a decree signed on Wednesday by President Vladimir Putin.
However, the head of Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom, Petro Kotine, announced on Wednesday that it would take over the plant.
Shortly after the Russian takeover was announced, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, who had planned to travel to Kyiv and Moscow this week, announced his departure for Kyiv to discuss the establishment of a protective zone around the plant.
"On our way to Kyiv for important meetings," Grossi said in a post on Twitter. "The need for a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is now more urgent than ever," he tweeted.
The plant, the largest in Europe, is located in the Zaporizhzhia region, one of the Ukrainian territories officially annexed last week by Russia, and not far from the dividing line between the territories controlled by Kyiv and those occupied by Moscow.
The plant is now located in Russia and should be run by Russian nuclear energy specialists, according to the Kremlin. "The government will have to ensure that the nuclear installations of the plant are accepted as federal property," the Russian decree stated. It was not clear whether the Russians planned to replace the staff.
Despite the war that has been going on for more than seven months, the nuclear power plant is still functioning and supplies about a fifth of Ukraine's energy needs.
While the administrative management of the plant was transferred to Moscow on Wednesday, the Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom expressed indignation at "the creation of pseudo-companies with the name of Ukrainian companies."
The Russian move shows "the agony of the crazy imaginary world of the aggressor country," Energoatom added.
Moscow and Kyiv have been accusing each other of bombing the site for several months, with the strikes raising the spectre of a major nuclear disaster similar to that of Chernobyl in 1986. Last weekend, the Ukrainian director of the plant, Igor Murachov, was briefly detained by the Russians, before being released. The head of Energoatom, Petro Kotine, has since taken over.