Russia has been engaged in nuclear blackmail since the start of its full-scale war in Ukraine, mainly targeting Western countries, says security expert Rainer Saks. In his view, this blackmail has been partly successful.
Both Ukraine and Russia have been warning of possible provocations at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Saks said on ETV show "Ringvaade suvel."
Saks explained that Ukraine had already reported several weeks ago that Russia was beginning to mine the buildings of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
"[The Ukrainians] do not say directly that Russia has mined a particular reactor, but they are saying that explosive-like objects have been placed on the roof of the reactor building. And they say that Russia is planning a provocation or some kind of controlled or staged accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Yet, on the contrary, Russia is saying to be prepared for attacks from Ukraine - either rocket or artillery attacks - on the Zaporizhzhia plant," Saks said.
"These are the claims [being made by] both sides. The Ukrainian campaign is much bugger and has lasted longer. Russia's only started the day before yesterday, with some relatively chaotic announcements. But no one has come up with any really solid evidence," he added.
The nuclear threat is, according to Saks, primarily motivated by Russia and, above all, aimed at Western countries.
"Russia has been trying to make threats with nuclear weapons in the abstract since the beginning of the war. Not to draw very concrete attention to it, by any kind of use of nuclear weapons, but [by doing it] verbally. In the same way, we can remember that at the beginning of the war, Russia occupied the territory of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and has also tried to fire missiles at other nuclear power plants in southern Ukraine, which are now in Ukrainian-controlled areas. Russia has been engaging in nuclear blackmail all along and that has been primarily directed at Western countries," said Saks, who added, that to some extent Russia's blackmail has been successful.
"I think to a certain extent it has worked, because it has certainly made Western countries more cautious and it is trying to impose control on Ukraine in order to prevent Western countries from freely supporting the Ukrainians by scaring them with the potential consequences of this war," Saks said.
However, in his view, the Russian leadership does not want a real nuclear accident to occur.
"In fact, there is a very ambivalent attitude in the West, whereby on the one hand they say, that Russia's concerns must be taken into account, and on the other hand allow themselves to be blackmailed into saying - and I don't mean politicians so much as all kinds of experts, maybe lower-level politicians - that Russia doesn't care about its own people. However, I would argue that playing around with [the possibility of] a nuclear accident only suits the Russian leadership as an information operation, not if they were to go and actually organize a large-scale accident," Saks said.
In his view, the bigger threat now is the potential simulation of a small-scale explosion at a nuclear reactor.
"The more serious problem is that, if it could be simulated, on a smaller scale, [the possibility of] trying to carry out some kind of explosion, because a nuclear reactor is not that easy to blow up. It's built in a way that it should be able to withstand a nuclear attack, though maybe not a direct hit.
However, broadly speaking, the problem is that this sort of playing around with the issue could end up getting out of hand. That is the threat that is now emerging," explained Saks.
"Ringvaade suvel" also examined if and how a potential accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant could affect Estonia. According to Ilmar Puskar, head of the Estonian Environmental Board's radiation department, even in the worst-case scenario, there is no direct or indirect risk to Estonia.
"These plants are far enough away [from Estonia]. Zaporizhzhia and Ukraine's nuclear power plants in general are all far enough away from us that they do not pose a direct risk to us," Puskar said.
Editor: Michael Cole