MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia has hinted it is seeking to cut off Ukraine from Europe's largest nuclear plant unless Kyiv pays Moscow for electricity.
The Zaporizhzhia plant was captured by Russian troops following President Vladimir Putin's special military operation in Ukraine launched on February 24.
"If the energy system of Ukraine is ready to receive and pay, then (the plant) will work for Ukraine. If not, then ( the plant) will work for Russia," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said during a trip to the region on Wednesday (May 18), Russian news agencies reported.
His remarks came after Russian officials indicated that Moscow intends to remain in territories it controls in southern Ukraine, such as the Kherson region and large parts of Zaporizhzhia.
"We have a lot of experience of working with nuclear power plants, we have companies in Russia that have this experience," Mr Khusnullin said.
He said there was "no doubt" the Zaporizhzhia plant will remain operational. Ukraine's nuclear agency Energoatom said on Thursday that the plant continued to feed the national power grid.
Russians "do not have the technical capacity to supply energy from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to Russia or Crimea," Energoatom spokesman Leonid Oliynyk told AFP.
"This requires cost and time.... And in a month or two we will have everything under Ukrainian control again," he added.
Mr Oliynyk said Russia did not have the ability to cut off electricity supplies to Ukraine, as "Ukraine controls all the relevant equipment".
In 2021, before the outbreak of conflict, the plant accounted for one fifth of Ukraine's annual electricity production and almost half the electricity generated in the country's nuclear power plants.
Russian soldiers in early March took control of the plant in the city of Enerhodar, separated by the Dnipro river from the regional capital Zaporizhzhia which is still under Kyiv's control.
Clashes erupted in the plant in the first days of the conflict, raising fears of a possible nuclear disaster in a country where a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl plant in 1986.
Mr Khusnullin further hinted that Russia was there to stay.
"I consider that the future of this region is to work within the friendly Russian family. That's why I came here, to help with integration as much as possible," he said.
Russian officials and Moscow-appointed authorities said last week that the Ukrainian region of Kherson - which provides a land bride to the annexed Crimean peninsula - will likely become part of Russia.
While launching the Ukraine campaign, Mr Putin had assured that Russia does not seek to occupy Ukrainian territories.