KYIV -- Firing on Ukrainian neighbourhoods, bombarding schools and attacking a nuclear power plant are all methods used by the Kremlin, whose military tactics are increasingly resembling the actions of terrorists, military analysts say.
Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24.
As Russian expectations of a quick conquest went up in smoke, the Kremlin's tactics have become more and more destructive.
Early in the morning on Friday (March 4), the world looked on aghast as Russian troops attacked Europe's largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia.
The plant is in Enerhodar, 125km southwest of Zaporizhzhia city, a provincial capital. A Russian missile hit the plant, igniting a fire.
"A column of enemy vehicles approached the central square in front of the nuclear power plant's administrative building and began firing at the plant, the research and training centre, and the administrative building with the aim of damaging the checkpoint and entering the plant," Petro Kotin, the acting president of Energoatom, said in an interview with Ukrainian television channels Friday.
Energoatom operates Ukraine's nuclear power plants.
After Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) immediately put its Incident and Emergency Centre into full response mode, and it will monitor the situation around the clock.
In the latest update, on Sunday, the IAEA said the plant's management is now under orders from the commander of the Russian forces that took control of the site last week.
The Russian forces have switched off some mobile networks and the internet at the site, so that reliable information from the power plant cannot be obtained through normal channels, it said.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said he was "extremely concerned" about the developments.
"The deteriorating situation regarding vital communications between the regulator and the [Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant] is also a source of deep concern, especially during an armed conflict that may jeopardise the country's nuclear facilities at any time," he said in a statement. "Reliable communications between the regulator and the operator are a critical part of overall nuclear safety and security."
An accident at the Zaporizhzhia plant could have an aftermath equal to "six Chernobyls", Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday after the attack.
"The sanctions against the nuclear terrorist state need to be stepped up immediately," he said Friday. "A no-fly zone needs to be imposed over Ukraine right away because only that can guarantee that Russia won't strike nuclear facilities with missiles and bombs."
In addition to the attack on Enerhodar, in the first days of the war the Russian army invaded the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 30km-radius "dead" zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, whose fourth reactor exploded in 1986.
The closed area with its maximum security sits on the shortest and easiest route for the Russian troops, who are approaching from Belarus, observers say.
The main Russian attack column, whose objective is to seize Kyiv, is advancing on the Ukrainian capital from this direction.
In addition, Russian planes now based in Chernobyl are bombing Kyiv and the surrounding towns.
"The absolute worst possible scenario is playing out right now," said Yuri Kostenko, a specialist on nuclear power and former Ukrainian minister of environmental protection who, in the 1990s, led the programmes to close the Chernobyl plant.
The Russians understand that the Ukrainian army will not fire back at an adversary occupying a nuclear facility, so the Kremlin is using such sites as a shield, he explained.
"That's nuclear terrorism," Kostenko said.
"Combat that takes place at a nuclear facility is called nuclear terrorism everywhere in the world. It's not just the reactor that's there but also the long-term spent fuel storage facility. The people who went in there have no idea how to deal with that."
"On top of that, we can see that their command is in total chaos," he said. "The Russians' actions could set off a catastrophe of massive proportions."
Using nuclear facilities as a shield is just one of the brutal methods the Russian military is deploying in Ukraine, independent observers say.
Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group, on February 28 published evidence of Russia using cluster munitions in Ukraine.
Cluster munitions are banned in more than 100 countries because they present a significant threat to civilians. When a cluster munition nears a target, a set of submunitions is ejected, expanding the area of destruction.
In photographs and videos taken in Okhtyrka, a small city 100km west of Kharkiv, Bellingcat investigators provide evidence that the banned shells had hit a kindergarten on February 25. Three people, including one child, were killed, according to Amnesty International.
"Ukraine has no intention of capitulating, so [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's further reasoning is to annihilate the civilian population," Mykola Sunhurovskyi, director of military programmes at the Razumkov Centre, told Caravanserai.
"This may sound vulgar, but Putin isn't merely a thug. He's a terrorist," he said. "The whole world needs to understand that. We're dealing with a terrorist. Whoever doesn't support Ukraine right now is supporting terrorists."
The Kremlin could go even further in using banned weapons, according to intelligence.
Moscow might use so-called vacuum bombs in Ukraine, US and British officials said last week. The destruction from a vacuum bomb is comparable to the damage inflicted by a nuclear weapon.
"We have seen videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, which has no place on the battlefield," US Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN General Assembly on March 2. "That includes cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, which are banned under the Geneva Convention."
"We all have seen the 40-mile [64km]-long lethal convoy charging toward Kyiv," she added.