by Raffaele Crocco

The days pile up, as do the dead. Soldiers are dying – perhaps 300,000 by now, the losses of both armies – civilians are dying. In Lviv, Russian bombs hit a block of flats. Four dead, all civilians, nine injured so far. People are still digging through the rubble, the count is absolutely provisional. At the same time, because everyone’s bombs are bad, several residential and administrative buildings are reported to have been destroyed in Makiivka, a city in the Russian-controlled Donetsk region. There are dead and wounded here too.

On the battlefields, Ukraine is continuing its offensive. Tanks attacked in the Robotyne area on the road to Melitopol. They did not break through. The Russians resisted. All in all, 300 metres of ground have apparently been conquered. According to the Russian command, Ukrainian troops also attempted an attack in Kupyansk, but were repulsed with heavy losses.

But what really worries the international chancelleries is what happened on the night of 4-5 July, when the fighting took place just 40 km from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) immediately and repeatedly demanded access to all the buildings of the nuclear power plant.

The occupants – let us not forget – are the Russians. The agency wants to “confirm the absence of mines or explosives on the site.” As tensions and military activity increase in the region, “our experts need to be able to verify the facts on the ground”,  explained Director General Rafael Grossi.

For months, the plant has been at the centre of accusations and counter-accusations between Kyiv and Moscow. Ukraine, through President Zelensky, has explicitly accused the Russians of undermining the plant. An accusation that has not been confirmed by the investigations and inspections carried out in recent days by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Zelensky insists, calls for immediate action by the international community and returns to telling his citizens how to behave to protect themselves from possible nuclear radiation.

The Kremlin rejects everything Zelensky says and insists on talking again. Moscow speaks of a ‘high risk’ of sabotage from Kyiv. It is hard to see where the truth lies, but ‘nuclear fear’ is spreading, faster and more frighteningly than imagined. According to the Financial Times, Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned Putin against a nuclear attack in Ukraine.

The nuclear nightmare is not stopping the arms race, though. This week it emerged that the US may be supplying cluster munitions to Ukraine. This was revealed by US officials to CBS News. What are they? They are devices containing dozens of small bombs. When they explode, the small bomblets scatter and cover an area up to five times larger than conventional bombs. They are a lethal and destructive weapon. Not surprisingly, they have been banned by more than 100 countries. The danger remains with unexploded ordnance. They become death traps for civilians many years after the end of a war.

There is a Convention on Cluster Munitions. It came into force in 2010 and bans the use, production and stockpiling of this type of munition in the 123 states that have signed or acceded to it. Unfortunately, the United States, Russia and Ukraine have never signed the treaty.

If confirmed, the decision would raise tensions between Washington and Moscow amid rumours of secret talks between the US and Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the war. This has been revealed by NBC News.

Former senior US National Security officials are said to have held secret talks with unidentified Russian figures close to the Kremlin. On at least one occasion, they met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On the agenda was the fate of Russian-controlled territory and the search for a mutually acceptable exit strategy.