We are now dangerously close to nuclear war

A Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an airfield during military exercises

A Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launched from an airfield during military exercises

The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station (KHPP) dam by the Russian state is, quite simply, an act of terror by this terrorist state. With his army failing, his air force stuck in its hangars, it would seem that Putin is ready to do almost anything to hang on to the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and his throne in the Kremlin. It’s another war crime to add to the growing list, a list that includes the unlawful deportation of children – something that led the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for him.

The Russian military motivation behind the explosion is clear and not unexpected. The vast area west of the dam is an “armoured” highway to Crimea, and Putin knows his demoralized forces are in danger of collapsing in the face of charging Challenger and Leopard tanks. The floods will probably block this axis for several weeks. Ecological and agricultural damage alone will be legion, and without electricity from KHPP or the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), Ukraine will lack power for some time.

This type of terrorism is not new and must be predicted by the tyrant. I had the honor of being one of the chemical weapons advisors to the Peshmerga in the fight against another terrorist state: ISIS. In 2017, as the Islamic State fell in Iraq, they blew up the Al Mishraq sulfur mine south of Mosul. From a tactical point of view, this had the same effect as blowing up the KHPP barrage. The 400,000 tons of highly toxic sulfur dioxide crossed the route of the Iraqi army’s direct approach to Mosul and delayed them for several days, allowing ISIS to dig deeper into the city. At one point, the toxic cloud was heading towards Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil, with more than a million people at risk of death. Fortunately, the “gods” intervened and the poison dissipated in the upper atmosphere. When you have no limits or concerns for civilian casualties like ISIS and Putin, unfortunately, virtually nothing is off limits.

But the Ukrainians are cunning, very cunning. There is no doubt that the Ukrainian high command will have foreseen such an eventuality and will have many lines and methods of attack to get rid of this evil scourge. At first, it also seems that the Russian plan backfired, with Russian troops defending this sector seeking heights and the water needed for Crimea disappearing into the Black Sea.

However, the intended long-term consequence may well be the militarization of the ZNPP. For months now, I’ve been saying that Putin wouldn’t hesitate to trigger some sort of incident there if he felt it would give him a tactical advantage. Some fired me. But if the West shrugs its shoulders now, we are taking a big step towards making such an incident a horrible reality.

Without electricity and water in this huge nuclear power plant, the risk of meltdown of reactors and spent nuclear fuel begins to become plausible. Putin has threatened the West with nuclear weapons since the beginning of this war, but even if it is a hollow threat, the ZNPP could still be used as an improvised nuclear weapon, with plausible deniability. It is unclear what contamination would ensue or where it would go, but it would be a global humanitarian and environmental disaster.

The “Special Military Operation” is now in its death throes, with a creeping, confident, well-trained and equipped Ukrainian army on the march. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Russian military will hit a speed bump in a conventional manner, and with a leader and army commanders without morals or scruples, we must be prepared for further unconventional violence. Attacking schools and hospitals was a harbinger of evil for the Putin regime, and blowing up the dam is another gesture of truly terrible intent.

Either way, we must ensure that Ukraine wins as soon as possible, because the specter of an escalation into chemical, biological and – terrifying – nuclear war still looms.

Hamish of Bretton-Gordon OBE is the former Commander of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) forces for the UK and NATO

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