Footage of the Habakuka Dam after it was blown up (Twitter)Follow @@guyelster
The scenario in which Ukraine's Khbuvka Dam collapses during the fighting, intentionally or not, arose months ago following Kyiv's success in recapturing territory in Kherson Oblast. Ukraine has speculated that Russia may destroy the dam under its control to delay the passage of its forces across the Dnipro River, a natural barrier separating the two sides.
Although Moscow and government officials loyal to it in the occupied territories claim that the explosion at the Soviet-era dam was the result of Ukrainian shelling, Russia has a clearer interest in flooding the area and turning it into a quickswamp, despite the heavy price it will exact from residents of territories it unilaterally annexed. While the dammed water was critical for the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor and Crimea, it would not be the first time Russia has employed scorched-earth tactics.
The rise of the Dnipro River will make it difficult for the Ukrainian military to launch an amphibious offensive on the southern bank, which remains under Russian control even after being pushed out of Kherson last November. Moscow's forces are positioned in higher positions and are constantly shelling the city, the first they captured in their invasion, and they have been preparing for months for the possibility that Kyiv would try to cut off their territorial contiguity in the south and isolate Crimea.
Nova Kakhovka Dam in Kherson Oblast after it was blown up, yesterday(Photo: Reuters)
Russia, which has been struggling to regain momentum in a war that has lasted almost a year and a half, prepared during the winter for Ukraine's major counteroffensive and erected an extensive array of fortifications and obstacles along the front line. The flooding of the battle zones will make it difficult to function the advanced tanks and armored vehicles that Kyiv has received in recent months, which should have given it a significant advantage in any large-scale ground offensive.
Vladimir Putin's forces, which suffered heavy losses that significantly diluted their ranks, hope to drag out the fighting as much as possible. Their goal is to take the Ukrainian fighting spirit out of its sails and weaken the determination of Western countries to continue supplying it with advanced weapons. If this was indeed a Russian operation, it would be another desperate attempt to halt the advance of the Ukrainian army.
Kyiv's leadership says hitting the dam, which President Volodymyr Zelensky has described as a "massive bomb of mass destruction," will not change the end result — the removal of Russian forces — despite its heavy consequences for the environment and energy sector.
A resident walks through streets flooded following the explosion at Ukraine's Nova Hakhovka Dam, yesterday(Photo: Reuters)
It is not at all clear whether the Ukrainian counteroffensive, towards which thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have undergone training in NATO countries, has actually begun, but there are quite a few signs that indicate that it is at least at the beginning: an increase in attacks deep in the Russian-occupied territories and acts of sabotage across the border that brought the war into Russia.
Russian military officials, who have come under increasing criticism, have stated over the past two days that they have thwarted major attacks by Ukrainian forces and killed "hundreds" of soldiers, but Kyiv has dismissed this and remained silent as part of its psychological war against Moscow.
The person who still poured cold water on the seemingly impressive successes of the Russian army is the nemesis of its generals, Wagner Group Commander Yevgeny Prigozhin. He claimed that the descriptions provided by Moscow officials were "absurd" and instead corroborated Kyiv's version that its forces had advanced in the Bakhmut sector. The city in the east of the country was recently captured by Prijuzin's men, many of whom were killed during the longest battle of the war.
The loss or imminent encirclement of the city, which has become a symbol of Putin's devastation on Ukraine, could deal a devastating blow to already low morale in the ranks of Russian forces regardless of what happens in Kherson, further west.
Only in the coming days will it be clear whether the dam explosion has indeed disrupted Ukrainian plans, even temporarily, or whether it is another human disaster that ultimately will not change the balance of power in the most devastating conflict Europe has known since World War II.
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- War in Ukraine