What could the Ukraine dam disaster mean for Russia’s war?

Blowing up the dam would make any Ukrainian attempt to cross the river with a significant force impossible β€” an already difficult task β€” said Michael A. Horowitz, a geopolitical and security analyst and head of intelligence at the consulting firm Le Beck.

Crucially, it reduces the area of ​​the frontline the Kremlin army has to defend, he added, after a winter surge that left them stretched and exhausted.

“By blowing the barrage, Russia would be removing a key offensive vector from the equation,” Horowitz said.

Ukrainian officials agreed, with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accusing Russia of blowing up the dam with an “obvious” purpose: “to create obstacles to the offensive actions of the armed forces”.

The US government has intelligence that points to Russia behind the attack, according to two US officials and a Western official.

Could it be Ukraine?

Russia said Ukraine had destroyed the dam to distract from its “suffocating” counter-offensive, while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he could let Kyiv move its units from the front line of Kherson where they were most needed.

Some pro-war Russian military bloggers have suggested that destroying the dam would benefit Ukraine because Russian-controlled areas would suffer the most, disrupting its anti-mine barriers and frontline positions.

Analysts agreed that the entrenched defenses Russia had been building for months would be hit, but saw no clear pattern for Ukraine.

Evacuations continue from flooded areas of Kherson after dam explosion
On Wednesday, search and rescue teams worked in boats to evacuate residents from a flooded part of Kherson.Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Both sides stand to lose something, Horowitz said.

“It eliminates some of the defenses that the Russian army has built along the coast and will certainly impact many settlements in Russian-controlled areas,” he said, adding that for Kyiv, “it This is an ecological disaster, coupled with the prospect of losing one of the main sources of energy in southern Ukraine.

Indeed, some analysts have questioned whether the act was deliberate or rather the result of reckless negligence by the Russian forces controlling it.

In the months leading up to the breach, experts raised concerns about damage to the dam and warned that the reservoir behind it was overfilled due to heavy rains and melting snow.

“In this case, it’s a disaster for everyone,” said Frank Ledwidge, lecturer in military strategy at the University of Portsmouth in Britain and a former military intelligence officer.

And now for the war?

It’s too early to tell how the disaster might shape Ukraine’s counteroffensive, especially since kyiv has kept its plans secret.

But the fallout from the dam collapse could both hamper planned ground attacks and force the Ukrainian government to focus its attention and resources on recovery efforts.

“You imagine they knew it was a possibility,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Wet and muddy conditions on the ground may have already delayed Ukraine’s counter-offensive, making it difficult for heavy equipment to traverse a lot of ground.

“Now, just at the start, it could leave huge areas flooded for a long time,” O’Brien said. “If that was their intention, it certainly makes things much more difficult.”

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