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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron called for independent inspections at the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the Kremlin said Friday.

Putin “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to radiation contamination of vast territories”.

According to the Kremlin, both leaders called for experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect the plant “as soon as possible” and “assess the real situation on the ground”.

“The Russian side confirmed its readiness to provide the Agency inspectors with the necessary assistance,” the statement said.

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In a separate statement, the French presidency said that Macron “supported the dispatch of a mission of experts from the IAEA to the site under conditions agreed by Ukraine and the United Nations”.

It later specified that Putin had dropped his demand that the IAEA team travel to the site via Russia, saying it could arrive via Ukraine “in respect of Ukrainian sovereignty”.

Putin and Macron will speak again “in the coming days on this subject after talks between the technical teams and before the deployment of the mission,” the Elysee said.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was seized by Russian troops in March and recent fighting around it has raised the spectre of a nuclear incident comparable to Chernobyl.

Both Kyiv and Moscow have this week accused each other of preparing “provocations” at the facility.

The plant — the biggest in Europe — was targeted by several strikes in recent days, increasing fears of a nuclear disaster. Both Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the attacks.

Ukraine officials have also opposed a visit while the site is held by Russia, saying it would only “legitimise the occupation of the power plant”.

During the same call — their first in nearly three months — Putin told Macron that Russia was facing obstacles in the export of its food products and fertiliser.

“There are still obstacles to the mentioned Russian exports that do not contribute to the solution of problems related to ensuring global food security,” the Kremlin said.

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But Macron’s office later contested the claim, calling it an attempt “to politically manipulate this issue”.

“From our point of view, there is no legal or operational obstacle to Russian grain exports,” it said.

Last month in Istanbul, Russia and Ukraine signed landmark deals with Turkey and the United Nations that opened secure corridors for grain exports to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

A similar agreement signed at the same time allowed Russia to export its agricultural products and fertiliser despite Western sanctions over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine.

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