In defence of the IAEA
In recent days a spate of criticisms have been aired against the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, who travelled to Enerhodar in Russian occupied Ukraine, on the south side of the Kakhovka Reservoir, to inspect the enormous six-rewctoe light water-cooled nuclear power plant that historically produced as much as 25 per cent of Ukraine's electricity requirements.
The criticisms levelled at the officials are that they wrote a report (extremely hard to find but we include a link to it below) about the nature of the emergency situation at Enerhodar without apportioning blame between Russia and Ukraine for the crisis events that have taken place there; and without condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine: something most member states of the United Nations (of which the IAEA is specialist agency) agree was either illegal under international law, or a gross affront to morality and proper dealings between sovereign states; or both.
Those criticisms of the IAEA, heard through some of the darker or more smoky hallways of countries' foreign policy bureaucracy, are entirely without merit. Indeed the IAEA staff who prepared that report are heroes every one of them. Consider the following facts and matters.
The Enerhodar site is within an obscure and poorly serviced area of central Ukraine under Russian military occupation. It is not clear what law applies there if any, or who enforces it. The status of local police authorities is far from clear. The Russian armed forces who guard Enerhodar and the roads leading up to it are relatively professional but far from perfect and they could shoot at any time. This is an inherently dangerous environment where few would dare to tread. But the IAEA inspection team did so, and some of them have stayed.
While the IAEA inspection team were there, the Enerhodar site was subject to shelling and water-based attacks, presumably by Ukrainian armed forces units. This increased the level of danger.
Russia is a totalitarian society (as to a significant extent is Ukraine). This means that people believe that the government is telling them what to think; and they must think it. This makes people paranoid, and it also severely limits freedom of speech. The IAEA inspectors had to be very careful in what they said in such an environment, to avoid upsetting the occupying authorities. Also if they said the wrong thing they might be expelled; not permitted to return; or not permitted to stay on site. Nevertheless given those constraints the IAEA team produced a remarkably objective, facts-based report without making inroads into the rights and wrongs of the war which they decided (probably wisely given their hosts) was not part of their mandate.
We do not know from the report as much as we might like about current radiation levels at the site; but the IAEA officials travelling there must have been well aware of the possibility of their being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Despite all these constraints the IAEA mission staff travelled to Enerhodar and produced a professional a professional report couched in sober language - under circumstances of danger to their persons. They deserve accolades for their courage and professionalism.
We challenge any detractors of the IAEA mission to go to Enerhodar themselves and see how they get on.
To an extent the parts of the site they were shown may have been selective and/or there may have been a clean-up job underway before they arrived. This was always inevitable and it is no reason to criticise the mission. The fact is that Enerhodar remains safer with an IAEA presence than without one.
The assertion is sometimes heard that the IAEA is pro-Russian, and consequently anti+Ukrainian, and even that the IAEA has taken anti-Ukrainian positions on issues over the years because it is biased in favour of Russian interests. The grounds proffered for this unusual conclusion are that Russia has an undue influence in the operation and recruitment of staff at the IAEA, because the IAEA is in Vienna; the United Nations Office in Vienna (UNOV) has had a Russian Director General for the past extended period; therefore through his giant invisible hand IAEA is unduly motivated to represent Russian interests more than other UN member states.
This is an argument heard commonly in the intelligence communities, and if is nonsense from start to finish
The current Director General of INOV is Ghada Fata Waly. She is Egyptian and was appointed in 2020.
There are reasons to exercise increased supervision over nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Ukraine is the poorest country in the world on a GDP per capita basis to run any nuclear reactors. Ukraine was the site of the world's worst ever nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl reactor fire, in 1986. The evidence suggests that Ukraine has trouble maintaining the safety and security of her water cooled nuclear reactors, inter alia due to rampant corruption and institutional poor quality, without the support and supervision of others. That other was traditionally Russia. As Ukraine sought to sever ever more ties with Russia, the IAEA stepped into the breach. This is why the IAEA has historically given Ukraine disproportionate attention.
The proportion of UNOV staff who are Russian might be slightly higher than in most UN agencies; but the difference is not huge. The prior DG, a Russian, appeared to be running a Russian intelligence and espionage organisation out of UNOV and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a UN agency inside UNOV; but since his departure in 2020 there is less of this.
In any event the IAEA has its own bureaucracy and it does not have 'too many Russians'. It recruits only nuclear scientists, a small and specialist class for whom there are more objective entry tests. To be certain, the IAEA is full of spies; but they are spies for all sides. The IAEA is an institution run on equitable and fair share grounds.
The Director General of the IAEA, who headed the mission to Enerhodar, is Italian, a pro-western country that has imposed comprehensive sanctions on Russia for her invasion of Ukraine.
A lot of western intelligence officials want the IAEA team to report that the Enerhodar complex and attached city should be declared a military-free zone run by Ukrainian civilians, and they are upset with the IAEA mission to Enerhodar for not including it in their report. This is an entirely bogus criticism of the report. The problem with such a recommendation is that the Russians will straightforwardly ignore it and the relationship between IAEA officials and occupying Russian military forces may be fractured It is a silly recommendation because Russia has no incentive whatsoever to withdraw from such strategically important occupied territory that the Ukrainians cannot get near to in sufficient numbers to attempt to re-take it.
Of course were the recommendation made and miraculously implemented by Russian armed forces, then Ukraine would susdenly be placed in a massively stronger position in the Zaporizhzhia and adjacent Kherson oblasts, the regions to which Enerhodar is strategically important. For that reason Russia would never comply with such a recommendation and the entire exercise is wishful thinking.
Frustrated with the IAEA's on the ground team refusing to make such a recommendation, western powers are now pushing a resolution through the IAEA Governing Board to the same effect - and it will pass because the Board operates on a one member (state) one vote basis. Nevertheless this is foolishness. Russia will ignore they too. She does not care about resolutions of boards of international organisations. Her approach to compliance with international law is wholly different from that in the West.
The West ought to accept that the IAEA mission to Enerhodar was brave, as objective as could be in the circumstances, understandably reticent about moral issues in the war or questions of who was shelling whom (they are not experts in this) and the IAEA has emerged from this mission much enhanced in status of all right-thinking people. Spies at desks in the safety of western capitals should not rightly criticise them, not least by reason of the dangerous and restrictive environment in which they have been working.
We commend the IAEA for its ongoing work in Enerhodar, Ukraine.