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Ukraine's Kakhovka Dam Explosion (UPDATE)
Means, Motive, and Opportunity
The world is watching in horror as residents in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine are struggling to survive a massive explosion this week that destroyed the Kakhovka dam that spans the Dnipro River and flooded their homes and cities.
Not only is the resulting catastrophe an ecological nightmare and a war crime, But the Russians are shooting at rescuers trying to reach the flooded areas and rescue residents who are elderly or vulnerable in the occupied parts of the Kherson region.
The good news is that the consequent flooding is significantly disrupting Russian defensive positions on the east bank of the Dnipro River. Russian troops do not appear to have been ready for the destruction that resulted in losses in personnel and military equipment. In particular, there are injured, dead, and missing in Russia's 7th Air Assault Division and the 22nd Army Corps.
The bad news is that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under Russian control, could be affected, since the reservoir supplies cooling water to the plant.
The Russians are accusing Ukraine of destroying the dam. And of course, blaming the West, per their usual playbook. If Ukraine did it, the move was an outrageously bold one. The world would immediately blame the Russians, since they not only occupied the area, but also apparently bragged on social media channels that they undermined the dam, which CNN confirms was damaged days before it collapsed. Russia is also known for targeting civilian infrastructure; it has been doing so since it invaded in February, 2022.
Ukraine is, of course, accusing Russia, and if Russia was responsible, it committed a huge mistake for which someone is going to pay, given the eroded defensive positions and the ensuing ecological disaster for which the world will undoubtedly blame Moscow.
So who had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit this heinous crime?
The explosion was definitely deliberate, and Russia has had control of the dam since early on in the war. Experts confirm that the dam would be nearly impossible to bombard, especially since it’s in an area that’s controlled by Russian forces.
“Russia has controlled the dam and the entire Kakhovka hydro power plant for more than a year… It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside, by shelling. It was mined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up.”
The Russians were in a position to detonate explosives from within. Could Ukraine have gotten in there and blown the dam? Possible, but less likely.
Ihor Syrota, head of Ukrhydroenergo, the state hydroelectric company, confirmed that a missile strike by Ukrainians, as the Russians claim, would not destroy the dam and that the blast came from inside the station.
I also cannot rule out incompetence, negligence, and a lack of maintenance by the Russians. They’re not well known for upkeep.
Russia has been working to cut off Ukraine’s critical infrastructure and demoralize the Ukrainian people since the war began, and the destruction of the dam is certainly within their usual modus operandi.
Flooding Ukrainians out of their defensive positions ahead of the start of the counteroffensive, stalling Ukraine’s military actions, undermining the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, launching an information operations campaign to condemn Ukraine for the destruction of the dam… these are all motives.
Could Ukraine have had a motive to blow up this dam? Sure. It certainly stopped the Russians from crossing and changed the geography of the Kherson front line, and the Institute for the Study of War says the flooding is disrupting Russian defensive positions on the east bank of the Dnipro River. In addition, Kakhovka supplies water to the Crimean Peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. That’s another great motive for Ukraine to blow it up, since it’s Putin’s pride and joy.
But the deaths of so many and the ecological and humanitarian catastrophe that followed makes the Ukrainian possibility less attractive.
Was Ukraine willing to sacrifice so many of its people in an op that would thwart the Russians in the area and give them an opportunity to launch an IO campaign blaming Moscow? I’m thinking not so much, especially with the ongoing Russian genocide and efforts to literally erase Ukrainian identity. No, Ukraine would want to save as many of its citizens as possible. And with the massive amounts of global attention being paid to this disaster, I doubt Kyiv would be willing to risk lives and reputation to be painted as an aggressor or a war criminal.
Russia has definitely had more opportunities to mine the dam and to trigger its destruction. After all, it was in control of the area when the disaster happened. Conveniently, that also means that independent investigators have no access to the site to determine the cause of the blast that destroyed the structure.
Experts say that an internal explosion was a likely explanation. That means that unless some Ukrainian saboteurs dressed up as Russian troops and snuck inside the hydro-electric power plant in the middle of the night, the Russians are the ones who had the real opportunity to sabotage the dam and the facility.
Ukraine says it has intercepted a call in which the Russians admit to having blown up the Kakhovka Dam.
The intercept features two males with Russian accents discussing the Russian military’s plan to blackmail Ukraine by attacking the dam, but apparently things went awry during that operation.
“It wasn’t the Ukrainians who blew up the dam. It was our sabotage group. They wanted to scare people with this dam [attack]. It didn’t go according to plan,” says one of those identified as a Russian military officer. “This dam was constructed in the 1950s, so it quickly collapsed.”
The authenticity of the phone call has not been verified, but it’s not the first time Ukraine has released intercepts and shown its ability to listen to Russian calls.
The Kremlin claims Ukraine hit the dam with rocket launchers, but scientists at NORSAR—a Norwegian-US joint agency that detects earthquakes and nuclear explosions—reported seismic signals in the area at the time of the collapse of the dam, indicating an explosion, rather than rockets.
President Zelensky in October warned the European Commission that the Russians were planning to destroy the Kakhovka Dam and cause a massive ecological disaster.
Russia is deliberately creating the grounds for a large-scale disaster in the south of Ukraine. We have information that Russian terrorists mined the dam and aggregates of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. This is one of the large power facilities. The dam of this hydroelectric power plant holds about 18 million cubic meters of water. If Russian terrorists blow up this dam, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, will be in the zone of rapid flooding. Hundreds, hundreds of thousands of people may be affected.
Could this have been a Ukrainian information operation to preemptively blame the Russians for the attack? Sure. But given all the other challenges associated with blowing up this facility and Russia’s control of the area, it’s unlikely.
And then, there were the social media posts bragging that the Russians blew up this dam.
Poster Iuliana Sintashko on the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK) wrote at 12:43pm on June 6 that she “can't say what our guys did, but I think everyone reads the news."
In the same Telegram channel, there was also a previous post (in Russian) about the withdrawal of Russian troops to the left bank of the Kherson region, noting that the dam was mined to detonate if the adversary starts an uncontrolled advance and enter Kherson. The author also estimated the probability of the Russians blowing up the dam at 70 percent.
The investigation is far from over, but early reporting quotes government officials who say they have intelligence that leans toward Russia being the perpetrator of the explosion and that the US government is working to declassify the reporting.
My point here is to explore all angles, and given Russia’s history of targeting civilian infrastructure, the screen caps indicating that the Russians did, indeed, mine the dam, and the means, motive, and opportunity, I would assess that this was Russia’s dirty deed.
Could this explosion have been the result of negligence? If it wasn’t for the screen captures bragging about the Russians having placed mines at the dam, I would say negligence and lack of maintenance is definitely a possible scenario.
Awaiting more evidence. In the fog of war, it’s tough to say.
UPDATE: A Telegram post by the Russian 205th Motorized Rifle Brigade appears to confirm the Russian armed forces’ involvement in the destruction of the dam.
The translation from Russian says that undoubtedly, the explosion of the dam is an environmental catastrophe, which will not bypass Russia. “The threat of a large-scale enemy offensive was significant, and Kherson played an important role in the offensive.” He continues, “As I wrote back in November, a detonation was inevitable. But... We miscalculated a bit, and the consequences of such an uncontrolled action will soon lead to significant territorial losses."
The underlined part is also bolded in the translation.
More evidence, although this could also be Ukrainian disinformation. The authenticity has not been verified.