Ukraine news updates: US says Russia is weaponizing energy – USA TODAY

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A delegation of nuclear power plant experts hoping to head off catastrophe was en route Wednesday to the beleaguered Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant as Ukrainian and Russian officials heatedly blamed each other for nearby military strikes.
Also Wednesday, Russia’s Gazprom said it would halt the flow of natural gas through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe for three days of maintenance, increasing concerns that Russia will cut off the primary natural gas supply for a swath of Europe this winter. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been running at only 20% of capacity in recent weeks.
The Zaporizhzhya delegation, led by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, was in Ukraine and expected to arrive at the Russian-occupied plant Thursday.
“It’s a mission that seeks to prevent a nuclear accident and to preserve this important – the largest, the biggest – nuclear power plant in Europe,” Grossi said, adding that “we will have a pretty good idea of what’s going on” in a few days.
Grossi said his14-person team could help bring “clarity” to issues at the plant and help address contradictory information about the status of the facility, its operation and the damage it has sustained during the six months of war. Tentative plans call for some members of the international delegation to remain long-term at the plant.
U.N. and IAEA officials have sought for weeks to gain access to the plant, warning that fighting in the area could trigger a disastrous accident. Russia has controlled the area for several months, but Ukrainian workers still operate the facility.
SIX MONTHS INTO THE WAR:The entire world is losing. A look at where we go from here.
Missile strikes in the area are an almost daily occurrence, and minor damage to the plant is occasionally reported. The plant was briefly knocked offline last week because of a transmission line fire, further raising safety concerns.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Russia to demilitarize the area around the plant.
“They are playing games. They are gambling with the nuclear security,” Borrell said. “We cannot play war games in the neighborhood of a site like this.”
UKRAINE SAYS COUNTEROFFENSIVE IS UNDERWAY:International team heads to nuclear plant
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed Ukraine for the shelling – and Europe and the U.S. for failing to pressure Kyiv to halt its alleged attacks. Zakharova accused Ukraine of nuclear “blackmail,” an allegation Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly made against Moscow in recent weeks.
“Unfortunately, Russia does not stop provocations,” Zelenskyy said in an address to his nation late Tuesday. “The situation … remains extremely threatening. The occupiers do not leave the plant, continue shelling and do not take away their weapons and ammunition.”
Gazprom’s announcement of the gas shutoff came as no surprise. John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, on Wednesday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “weaponizing  energy” but said Europe is prepared.
“Germany will reach their target gas storage, despite the Russian cuts, ahead of schedule,” Kirby said. “And I know all our European counterparts are laser focused on this.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is among European leaders pushing for an urgent redesign of the European electricity market to decrease the impact of soaring gas prices on the cost of energy.
“The pressure is so great that I am really very confident that it will be done quickly,” Scholz said. 
Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY; The Associated Press


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