The destruction early on Tuesday morning of the dam at Kakhovka on the river Dnieper in Ukraine has been widely condemned. Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said the action again demonstrated the brutality of Russia’s war. The European Council president, Charles Michel, said it was a war crime, and one for which Russia would be made to pay. German chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasised that Kyiv would be fully supported for as long as was necessary and that Vladimir Putin’s designs would not be allowed to prevail.
The immediate effects of the destruction have been rapidly rising waters on both sides of the Dnieper – the west bank held by Ukraine and the east by Russia – the evacuation of many villages, a threat to water supply in the occupied Crimean peninsula and a significant impact, whose extent it is still too early to calculate, on the ecosystem of the Black Sea region.
Ukraine and its allies were quick to accuse Russia of responsibility for the explosions, though a Kremlin spokesman accused “saboteurs” hired by Kyiv. It is difficult to see what interest Ukraine would have in destroying the Kakhovka dam.
At the outset of the present conflict, in February 2022, Russian forces crossed the Dnieper, seizing the major city of Kherson; in a counteroffensive last November they were forced back across the river, which now is the line of separation between the two armies in that theatre.
Ukraine’s widely expected spring/summer counterattack must hope to cross the Dnieper again and drive back Russian and pro-Russian forces. The blowing up of the Kakhovka dam and consequent widening of the flooded river is likely to make such a complex amphibious operation even more hazardous and costly.
Ukraine is now much better armed and trained than it was a year ago. Its troops’ morale is high. Its allies and supporters will be hoping that it will soon be able to mount a successful offensive in its occupied territories since a series of clear military defeats is the only thing that has a chance of bringing Russia to the negotiating table.