Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly voiced support for Ukraine Thursday and expressed concern that shelling at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant could lead to “another Chernobyl.”
Weeks before Erdogan arrived in Ukraine to meet with President Volodmyr Zelensky, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia. There, the two leaders “reaffirmed their common will to further Turkey-Russia relations based on mutual respect, recognition of reciprocal interests, and in accordance with their international undertakings,” according to a joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website.
But Erdogan told reporters Thursday that while Turkey is “continuing our efforts to find a solution, we remain on the side of our Ukraine friends,” Agence France-Presse reported.
The visit took place as fears continue to mount that the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War could trigger a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhya plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian personnel even though it is located in southeastern Ukrainian territory that has been occupied by Russian forces since the early days of the war. Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly accused each other of shelling near the plant in recent days.
“We are worried. We do not want another Chernobyl,” Erdogan said.
A nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, became the site of a nuclear disaster in April 1986 when a reactor “went out of control,” causing an explosion and fire that destroyed the reactor building, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The incident released a large amount of radiation into the atmosphere.
Two plant workers died in the initial explosion, while more than two dozen additional firemen and emergency clean-up workers died from Acute Radiation Sickness in the first three months that followed it, the IAEA said. About 200,000 people are believed to have been relocated as a result of the Chernobyl incident.
There are indications that the situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant could soon escalate further. Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing each other of planning to carry out a “provocation” at the plant on Friday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during an appearance on state television Thursday that Ukraine is using the allegedly planned provocation as “nuclear blackmail.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence service also tweeted Thursday that Russia was in the process of “preparing a provocation” allegedly set to take place on August 19.
“The occupiers announced an unexpected ‘day off’ at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. On August 19, only operative personnel will be at the ZNPP. Entry to all other employees will be closed,” the tweet said, according to an English translation.
“From the available information, it becomes clear that the occupiers, after the large-scale shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant, can ‘raise the stakes’ and stage a real terrorist attack on the largest nuclear facility in Europe,” the service added in another tweet.
Newsweek reached out to Turkey’s presidential office and the foreign ministries of Russia and Ukraine for comment.