As Russia retreats from Kherson, a key Ukrainian city, there are fears forces could blow up a major dam
It would cause devastating flooding and president Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia would be “declaring war on the whole world”
Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War have previously said destroying the dam would slow down the Ukrainian counteroffensive
Read the full article below to find out why the dam has become central to the ongoing war in Ukraine
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has said Russia would be “declaring war on the whole world” if its forces blow up a major dam in the region it is retreating from.
There are fears Russia could destroy the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, causing destructive flooding of up to 80 towns and cities and, by many accounts, a humanitarian crisis.
This comes after Russia’s troops were this week ordered to retreat from the key city of Kherson, in the southern Kherson Oblast region, following an ongoing counteroffensive by Ukraine’s forces.
Kherson had been the only regional capital taken by Russia since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February.
The retreat is therefore a humiliation for Putin, especially as Kherson is one of the regions he annexed and claimed formal control of in a ceremony at the end of September.
It has subsequently raised fears about what Russia may do with the Kakhovka plant. In a message to Russia, Zelensky warned “think what will happen to you” if it does blow up the dam which, according to the independent Moscow Times news outlet, carries about the same amount of water as the Great Salt Lake in Utah in the US.
The spectre of Russia blowing up the Kakhovka plant was previously raised by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a major US think tank, last month.
As the ISW said in its 21 October update: “Russian forces will likely attempt to blow up the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP) to cover their withdrawal and to prevent Ukrainian forces from pursuing Russian forces deeper into Kherson Oblast.
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“Russian forces will almost certainly blame Ukraine for the dam attack.”
Indeed, Sergey Surovikin, head of the Russian forces in Ukraine, said this week that Ukraine plans to flood the area below the power plant.
But, as the ISW pointed out, “Ukraine has no material interest in blowing the dam, which could flood 80 Ukrainian cities and displace hundreds of thousands of people while damaging Ukraine’s already-tenuous electricity supply.
“Russia, however, has every reason to attempt to provide cover to its retreating forces and to widen the Dnipro River, which Ukrainian forces would need to cross to continue their counteroffensive.”
It added "Russian decision makers may believe that blowing the dam will enable them to retain that buffer zone" with Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
However, Ukraine has said Russia would be "crazy" to blow up the dam when such a move could flood areas under its control.
"If you check the landscape in this district, you will find that the western bank is higher terrain and the east bank is lower terrain," defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said.
"This means the water will flow east of this bank and they will have a risk for their troops."
Meanwhile, James Black, a defense analyst at RAND Europe, told the Moscow Times: "Blowing the dam would also provoke international outcry.
"While it may slow Ukrainian troops’ advance in the south in the short-term, it could serve to further stiffen Ukrainian resolve and will-to-fight against Russian occupation in the long run.”