Well, what are we to make of the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam in Ukraine? Ther dam was breached over the past few days, sending millions of gallons/litres downstream in the Dnipro river and incapacitating its integral hydro-electric power station beyond repair.
The immediate results include flooding of both banks of the river downstream, the interruption of water supplies to Crimea via its associated canal, and the threat to the cooling systems of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station upstream. The destruction of the dam is also a reprehensible act of ecological vandalism with catastrophic consequences for those living downstream. Towns and cities on both sides of the river have been flooded, and many tens of thousands of their inhabitants forced to move to safer ground. As ever, the innocent suffer the most.
The Geneva Convention
This action contravenes Article 56 of the 1977 Additional Protocol (I) to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which states “It is forbidden to attack or destroy works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely, dams, dykes and nuclear generating stations.” It therefore constitutes a war crime, although it’s hard to see anyone, including Putin himself, being brought to book for it.
Typically, accusations have flown from all sides in a tit-for-tat war of words. Ukraine says Russia deliberately blew it up, or at the very least ignored essential maintenance of the dam to the extent that it has finally crumbled and fallen down. Russia counter-claims that it was destroyed by Ukrainian artillery strikes, which is clearly nonsense.
Clever move by Russia?
But if it was Russia – and of course they’ve denied it – it was a clever move from a purely military perspective. It has in effect curtailed the options for Ukraine’s counter-offensive by making an assault crossing from the right bank around Kherson city virtually impossible. And, despite flooding some of their own defence lines in the process, they may now be able to deploy troops elsewhere. Ukraine’s counter offensive plans may well have been thrown off-balance as they are diverted to deal with the disaster.
Is nuclear next?
The next big question is, of course, that if Putin is prepared to authorise this contravention in pursuit of whatever his war aims now might be, is there anything else he’s prepared to do to save face and hang on to power? I don’t think losing is part of his plan, or perhaps if he’s facing defeat then he might think he may as well as lose everything.
The threat of nuclear disaster still hangs over Ukraine, and indeed western Europe. Not so much via the possible use of tactical or, Heaven forfend, strategic nuclear armaments by Russia, because I have absolutely no doubt that it has been made quite clear to Putin and his cronies that any such action along such lines would lead rapidly to the end game, and he and his country would not be on the winning side.
However the situation at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, in Russian hands, remains a worry. We are reassured for the moment that the loss of water for reactor cooling is manageable, but the presence of Russian military hardware in and around the plant still gives cause for concern. It’s a pretty cynical ploy by the Russians to be honest, because they know the UkrAF dare not attack them there.
And there’s another Dam in peril
However, to the north of the Ukrainian capital lies the Kyiv Reservoir, a substantial body of water held back by several dams to provide hydro-electric power, water for public consumption, and irrigation in that area.
Russian forces fleetingly took control of the power plant in February 2022 during the Kyiv offensive. Ukrainian forces recaptured it on 26 February and subsequently claimed they intercepted a missile targeting it.
In the aftermath of the Nova Kakhovka disaster, worries will have no doubt arisen again about the Kyiv dam’s possible destruction. It is understood if the dam were to be breached, flooding could destroy the entire left bank of Kyiv, which would be a huge blow to Ukraine.
The Ukrainians are no mugs and they will be only too aware of this. I trust they have suitable defences in place. But given Putin’s erratic and irrational actions to date, I wouldn’t put it past him to try it.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now