Ukraine war: Macron slams Russian invasion, hours after brokering nuclear inspection deal

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of Allied landings in Provence during World War II, Bormes-les-Mimosas, 19 August 2022
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of Allied landings in Provence during World War II, Bormes-les-Mimosas, 19 August 2022   -   Copyright  Eric Gaillard, Pool via AP

French President Emmanuel Macron said Russia launched a "brutal attack" on Ukraine in an imperialist, revanchist violation of international law.  

Macron made the comments during a ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of Allied landings in Nai-occupied Provence during World War II, and just hours after he spoke to Putin and helped broker a deal to allow UN nuclear inspectors to visit a critical plant in Ukraine. 

Macron, who tried tirelessly but unsuccessfully to prevent the invasion and long vaunted the importance of dialogue with Putin, has grown increasingly critical of the Russian president as the war bears on.

He warned French citizens that the resulting energy and economic crisis confronting Europe isn’t over, calling it “the price of our freedom and our values.”

“Since Vladimir Putin launched his brutal attack on Ukraine, war has returned to European soil, a few hours away from us," Macron said Friday. 

Macron said Putin is seeking to impose his “imperialist will” on Europe, conjuring “phantoms of the spirit of revenge” in a “flagrant violation of the integrity of states.”

Nuclear inspection deal

Earlier on Friday the Russian government has agreed that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can visit Ukraine's Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.

The plant has been occupied by Russian troops for months and experts say shelling in and around the complex poses a grave risk of nuclear incident. 

The new, tentative, agreement came after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron. 

It was their 20th conversation this year but their first in three months.

Putin said he feared that bombing in the area would eventually lead to a "large-scale disaster," even though Russian forces are widely blamed for the shelling. Russia blames Ukraine. 

"The systematic bombardment of the territory of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale disaster that could lead to the radioactive contamination of vast territories," the Russian president warned in his call with Macron. 

The two leaders "noted the importance of sending a mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the nuclear power plant as soon as possible, which will be able to assess the situation on the spot", the Kremlin said, underlining that "the Russian side confirmed that it was ready to provide all necessary assistance to the IAEA inspectors".

The Russian head of state also agreed that the inspectors should go via Ukraine and not via Russia, which he had previously demanded, according to the French Presidency.

Reaction to news of the deal

In a statement, the IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi "welcomed recent statements that Ukraine and Russia support the IAEA's objective to send a mission" to Zaporizhia.

The organisation said it was actively consulting with all the parties involved to send a team as soon as possible, which Grossi would lean himself. 

Still, the IAEA called for restraint, calling the situation "highly volatile and fragile." 

Ukrainian nuclear workers have been kept at Zaporizhia, working under Russian supervision, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that full security at the site "can begin after the mission has started its work." 

There are concerns not just that Russian forces have rigged the plant with explosives, or that it could be damaged by direct shelling, but also about maintaining the water cooling of the nuclear reactors. 

UN Secretary General António Guterres, on a visit to Ukraine, said Friday that "any potential damage to Zaporizhia would be suicide" and urged "demilitarisation of the plant." 

The EU's head of diplomacy Josep Borrell called on the Russians to withdraw from the site, and "immediately return full control to its rightful owner, Ukraine."