Russian president Vladimir Putin urged Russia's neighbours on Friday not to escalate tensions by imposing more restrictions, more than a week after Moscow sent its forces into Ukraine.
His comments came hours after Russian forces seized the largest nuclear power plant in Europe on Friday, after a building at the complex was set ablaze, and later entered the port city of Mykolayiv for the first time, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Fears of a potential nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia plant had spread alarm across world capitals, before authorities said the fire, in a building identified as a training centre, had been extinguished.
In televised remarks on Friday, Mr Putin said: “There are no bad intentions towards our neighbours. And I would also advise them not to escalate the situation, not to introduce any restrictions.”
He added: “We do not see any need here to aggravate or worsen our relations. And all our actions, if they arise, they always arise exclusively in response to some unfriendly actions, actions against the Russian Federation.”
Growing restrictions on the press in Russia continued to take their toll on Friday with the BBC saying it has temporarily suspended news operations within the Russian Federation while it assesses the implications of new legislation adopted by the authorities there.
BBC News will continue its service in Russian from outside of Russia, it said. “The safety of our staff is paramount and we are not prepared to expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution simply for doing their jobs,” BBC Director-General Tim Davie said in a statement. “I’d like to pay tribute to all of them, for their bravery, determination and professionalism.”
Furthermore, Russia’s communications regulator on Friday evening said it had blocked Facebook in response to what it said were restrictions of access to Russian media on its platform.
The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said there had been 26 cases of discrimination against Russian media by Facebook since October 2020, with access restricted to state-backed channels such as RT and the RIA news agency.
The regulator also restricted access to Twitter, Tass news agency said on Friday night.
The United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday agreed to set up a commission to investigate alleged rights violations by Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, including possible war crimes.
Meanwhile, Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will not set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine nor send its troops there, after a meeting of its foreign ministers in Brussels.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy had called for a no-fly zone since Moscow's invasion started on February 24th, and he reiterated the call on Friday after Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Stoltenberg told a news conference: “This is president Putin’s war, one he has chosen, planned and is waging against a peaceful country. We call on president Putin to stop this war immediately, withdrawal all his forces without conditions and engage in genuine diplomacy now.
“Allies agree we should not have Nato planes operating in Ukrainian air space or Nato troops on Ukraine’s territory.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic told journalists on Friday the EU wants Ukraine to become a member state “as soon as possible”.“It’s time for signalling that the Ukrainian people [are] one of the European peoples and we want them in as soon as possible,” he said, but added that at the moment, the bloc needed to focus on short-term measures linked to the war.
The head of the United Nations’ atomic energy agency said the building at the Zaporizhzhia plant that was hit by a Russian “projectile” early on Friday was not part of the reactor and there has been no release of radiation.
Rafael Mariano Grossi said Ukrainians were still in control of the reactor, adding that only one reactor was operating at about 60 per cent capacity.
He also said two people on the site were injured in the fire.
A video from the plant verified by Reuters showed one building aflame and a volley of incoming shells, before a large candescent ball lit up the sky, exploding beside a car park and sending smoke billowing across the compound.
Later on Friday Russia’s defence ministry blamed the attack on Ukrainian saboteurs, calling it a “monstrous provocation”. A Russian defence ministry spokesman said the nuclear plant was operating normally and the area had been under Russian control since February 28th.
The account was diametrically opposed to Ukraine’s version of events.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a video statement on Friday: “Europe must wake up now . . . If there will be an explosion, it will be the end to all of us, the end of Europe, the evacuation of Europe.”
President of the United States Joe Biden and British prime minister Boris Johnson spoke to Mr Zelenskiy after news of the fire broke.
Mr Johnson said he would seek an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Friday, adding that "the reckless actions of president Putin could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe", according to a Downing Street spokeswoman.
The US embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the nuclear plant a ‘war crime’. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it showed how reckless the Russian invasion has been.
“It just raises the level of potential catastrophe to a level that nobody wants to see,” he told CNN.
Meanwhile, the capital Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armoured column that has been stalled on a road for days, came under renewed attack on Friday, with air raid sirens blaring in the morning and explosions audible from the city centre.
Russian troops have consolidated control over the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and have closed in on the Azov Sea port of Mariupol, while continuing to shell Kyiv, Kharkiv and other large cities.
The governor of Mykolayiv Vitaliy Kim said fighting was under way in parts of the Black Sea port city after troops entered for the first time on Friday.
While no major assault has been launched on Kyiv, the capital has been shelled, and Russian forces unleashed devastating firepower to break resistance in the outlying town of Borodyanka. In Washington, a US defence official said Russian troops were still 25km from Kyiv city centre.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than a million refugees have fled Ukraine since February 24th, when the Russian attack began.
Kyiv and Moscow reached an “understanding” on Thursday on ways to ease the suffering of people in Ukraine, even as Russia said nothing would stop it subjugating its pro-western neighbour.
Talks took place on the Belarus-Poland border where "the parties reached an understanding on joint provision of humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of the civilian population, as well as for the delivery of medicines and food to places where the fighting is most fierce," according to a Ukrainian delegate to the talks, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.
He said the meeting also yielded tentative agreement on the possibility of “a temporary ceasefire for the period when the evacuation will take place, in the sectors where it is carried out”.
Russian envoy Vladimir Medinsky did not mention a possible ceasefire but said: "The main thing we decided on today was the issue of saving people – civilians – who are in the zone of military clashes . . . Russia calls on civilians who find themselves in this situation, if military actions continue, to use these humanitarian corridors."
The EU’s 27 members agreed for the first time to activate a directive that will allow all Ukrainians fleeing the invasion to receive temporary residency in the bloc, as it prepares to face what may become the continent’s greatest exodus since the second World War.
In the US, the White House said that the Biden administration will give temporary protected status to people from Ukraine who are in the US and halt deportation of Ukrainian nationals who do not have green cards or other documentation.
In Dublin, the possibility of using modular homes to house Ukrainian refugees – in the event that they arrive to Ireland in large numbers – was being considered by the Government. – Reuters, Guardian