On June 6th, Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam was destroyed, unleashing vast quantities of water that are now flooding downstream areas. The question, as in the case of the Nord Stream sabotage, is whodunnit?
The potential culprits are the two warring parties, Ukraine and Russia, each of whom has already blamed the other. There’s also the possibility that the dam failed on its own due to damage sustained during the war.
Let’s consider that possibility first. Satellite imagery shows that a section of the road fell into the water on June 2nd, which suggests the dam may have been deteriorating for some time. Indeed, it was damaged twice in November by shelling and/or controlled explosions, with each side blaming the other as usual. In addition, the water level was at a 30-year high.
However, “local residents reported on social media that they heard a huge explosion around the time the dam was breached”, according to the New York Times, which all but proves the dam did not simply fail on its own.
Was it Russia? Unlike with the Nord Stream sabotage, Russia did have a plausible motive: to thwart a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the Kherson region. And even if that seems tenuous, Russia could always benefit from a false flag attack. Back in October, Zelensky accused of Russia of plotting to blow up the dam.
There’s also precedent: Russia has been bombing Ukraine’s infrastructure for months and has already destroyed several other dams – though to my knowledge it hasn’t previously denied responsibility for doing so.
What’s more, “engineering and munitions experts” quoted in the New York Times said that “an attack from outside the dam” was “less plausible” than an “internal explosion” – which points the finger at Russia, since they were in control of the dam. However, the experts did not completely rule out an external attack.
Yet there are reasons to doubt Russian culpability.
According to experts quoted in a Moscow Times article last October, “blowing the dam would not give Russia any significant military advantages and would jeopardize water supplies to Russian-controlled areas”. The article quoted Michael Kofman as saying that destroying the dam “would mean Russia essentially blowing its own foot off”.
Indeed, the dam provided water for the North Crimean Canal – the source of around 85% of Crimea’s water. Ukraine had blocked the canal in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but it was reopened by Russian forces in the early weeks of the war.
Some people claim that restoring Crimea’s water supply was a major reason why Putin launched his invasion. Russia had accused Ukraine of “genocide” for blocking the canal, and Crimea’s “water crisis” was seen as an “impossible problem for Putin”. Given all this, it seems difficult to believe that Russia would intentionally sabotage the dam.
What about Ukraine? It too had a plausible motive: washing away Russian minefields and fortifications on the left bank of the Dnieper. And like Russia, Ukraine could always benefit from a false flag attack.
Just as Zelensky accused Russia of plotting to blow up the dam, Russian General Sergei Surovikin accused Ukraine of doing the same thing. In fact, the two sides had been trading accusations for months.
What’s more, Ukrainian General Andriy Kovalchuk actually “considered flooding the river”, as the Washington Post reported in December. The Ukrainians “even conducted a test strike with a HIMARS launcher on one of the floodgates”. Although the “test was a success”, the step “remained a last resort” so they “held off”.
Either side could be behind the attack, and I think Russia being responsible is more plausible than in the case of Nord Stream. However, the fact that the dam’s destruction has once again put Crimea’s water supply in jeopardy suggests to me that Ukraine’s the more likely culprit. New evidence may yet tip the scales the other way.
Stop Press: Tucker Carlson broaches the whodunnit question in his first show for Twitter. He reckons it was the Ukrainians.