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French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the few Western leaders to keep an open dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine, urged the Kremlin in a phone call on Sunday to withdraw forces from the besieged Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
Russia and Ukraine have traded blame for shelling at the plant, which the UN nuclear watchdog has warned could have “very, very catastrophic” consequences.
Macron sided with Kyiv in his call with Putin, according to a readout from the Elysee Palace.
“[Macron] recalled that the Russian occupation was the cause of the risks weighing today on the integrity of the Zaporizhzhia power plant,” the French president told Putin. “He asked that the Russian forces withdraw their heavy and light weapons and that the recommendations of the IAEA be followed up to ensure the safety of the site.”
Putin, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for putting the plant in jeopardy.
“The Russian side drew attention to regular Ukrainian attacks on the plant’s facilities, including radioactive waste storage, which is fraught with catastrophic consequences,” a readout from the Kremlin said.
Russian forces took over the plant in the early days of the war but it is still being operated by a Ukrainian staff.
The International Atomic Energy Agency visited the plant, which is the largest in Europe, last week and called for a security zone to be established to protect it.
“The physical attack, wittingly or unwittingly – the hits that this facility has received and that I could personally see and assess together with my experts – is simply unacceptable,” IAEA general director Rafael Grossi said.
The IAEA said Sunday that a backup power line was restored to the plant, allowing external electricity into the facility for reactor cooling and other operations.
Energoatom, Ukraine’s nuclear state agency, said that it had to halt operations at the plant on Sunday as a safety precaution.
Macron, who pledged to continue talking to Russia earlier this month, also condemned Putin’s invasion on Sunday.
“[Macron] condemned the continuation of Russian military operations in Ukraine and recalled his demand that they cease as soon as possible, that negotiations begin and that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity be restored,” the readout of his call with Putin said.
Reuters contributed to this report.