U.S. officials believe Russia is working to fabricate evidence concerning last week’s deadly strike on a prison housing prisoners of war in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine.
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia is looking to plant false evidence to make it appear that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the July 29 attack on Olenivka Prison that left 53 dead and wounded dozens more, a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence finding told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Russia has claimed that Ukraine’s military used U.S.-supplied rocket launchers to strike the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic.
The Ukrainian military denied making any rocket or artillery strikes in Olenivka. The intelligence arm of the Ukrainian defence ministry claimed in a statement Wednesday to have evidence that local Kremlin-backed separatists colluded with the Russian FSB, the KGB’s main successor agency, and mercenary group Wagner to mine the barrack before “using a flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of fire in the room.”
Russia could plant U.S. ammo: official
The U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the classified intelligence — which was recently downgraded — shows that Russian officials might even plant ammunition from medium-ranged High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, as evidence that the systems provided by the U.S. to Ukraine were used in the attack.
Russia is expected to take the action as it anticipates independent investigators and journalists eventually getting access to Olenivka, the official added.
Ukraine has effectively used HIMARS launchers, which fire medium-range rockets and can be quickly moved before Russia can target them with return fire, and have been seeking more launchers from the United States.
Earlier Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he is appointing a fact-finding mission in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigate the killings at the prison.
Guterres told reporters he doesn’t have authority to conduct criminal investigations but does have authority to conduct fact-finding missions. He added that the terms of reference for a mission to Ukraine are currently being prepared and will be sent to the governments of Ukraine and Russia for approval.
The Ukrainian POWs at the Donetsk prison included troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months holed up with civilians at the giant Azovstal steel mill in the southern port city. Their resistance during a relentless Russian bombardment became a symbol of Ukrainian defiance against Russia’s aggression.
More than 2,400 soldiers from the Azov Regiment of the Ukrainian national guard and other military units gave up their fight and surrendered under orders from Ukraine’s military in May.
Scores of Ukrainian soldiers have been taken to prisons in Russian-controlled areas. Some have returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges with Russia, but other families have no idea whether their loved ones are still alive, or if they will ever come home.
UN wants access to Europe’s largest nuclear plant
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog appealed for access to a Ukrainian nuclear power plant now controlled by Russian forces to determine whether it was a source of danger.
Contact with the Europe’s largest nuclear plant, which is at Zaporizhzhia and is being operated by Ukrainian technicians, was “fragile” and communications did not function every day, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told Swiss paper Tages-Anzeiger.
“We can’t afford faulty communication with the plant in areas relevant to safety. We know of allegations that live ammunition is stored in the plant, that there are attacks on the power plant,” he said in interview published in German.
“Frankly, if I don’t have access, I can’t determine that. There are contradictions between the accounts of the Russian and Ukrainian sides. I receive information, I also mention it in my situation reports, but I have no way of determining whether it corresponds to the facts.”
A Russian-installed official in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had repeatedly used Western arms to attack the plant, which has two of six reactors operating and has been the subject of repeated warnings from Ukraine, the West and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called Russia’s actions around the plant “the height of irresponsibility,” accusing Moscow of using it as a “nuclear shield” in attacks on Ukrainian forces.
Reuters was unable to verify battlefield accounts from either side of the war.
Grossi said the UN discussions with parties to the conflict covered a proposed accord on security zones around nuclear plants but he saw no willingness to strike a deal at this stage.
Access to the plant was difficult and overland travel through occupied territory would require special security arrangements, he said. Talks with the Ukrainian government on arranging a visit were under way.
The agency has at times reported losing connection with surveillance systems that keep track of nuclear material at the