Vladimir Putin is eyeing “wet earth” tactics after being backed into a corner in the southern Ukrainian region, Kherson. Russian-installed officials have urged civilians to flee, citing the hostilities of war and a possible attack on the Nova Kakhovka Hydroelectric dam by Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian forces vehemently deny any intention to target the plant, suggesting Kremlin forces are creating a pre-text to destroy it themselves.
The destruction of the dam would result in a huge flood as the Dnipro river widens, restricting Ukraine’s ability to push forward and buying time for Russia’s newly called-up troops to be integrated into the military.
Although Ukraine’s military spy chief, Kyrylo Budanov, insisted the move would only slow down their advance by around two weeks.
Ukrainian authorities claim to have intelligence that Russian forces have already mined the dam and are preparing to blow it up – while the Kremlin said the Ukrainians are planning to do the same thing.
Dr Colin Alexander, an expert in political communications at Nottingham Trent University, told Express.co.uk: “If the dam were to be damaged then it will most likely be the Russians who have done it.
“Russia would certainly not be the first country to engage in ‘scorched earth’ tactics as part of a withdrawal. Perhaps the phrase, in this case, is ‘wet earth’ though.
“During World War 2, the British dismantled, destroyed or set fire to most of their assets around the port of Rangoon to prevent them from being usable by the invading Japanese.
“In this case though, the Ukrainians – already in a perilous position when it comes to meeting their energy needs over the winter months – would not want to blow up the dam.
“Moreover, such an act would likely lead to many thousands of deaths of their own citizens.
“If this is a region that Ukraine genuinely wants to keep as its own then such an act would likely be perceived as unforgivable by the public.”
An attack on the Soviet-era dam would result in a wall of floodwater damaging around 80 settlements, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
It would also put the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station, at risk because the site uses water from the Kakhovka Reservoir to cool its facilities.
Ukraine began a counteroffensive in the Kherson region west of the Dnieper in September, and over the past month has been gradually pushing back Russian forces closer to both the dam and the city of Kherson itself.
Last week Russia announced that it would begin the “organised transfer” of civilians from the western bank to the eastern bank of the river, saying the measure was necessary because Ukraine is “assembling forces for a wide-scale offensive” and that there is an “immediate danger that the territory will be flooded due to the planned destruction of the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.”
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Some 60,000 people are thought to have been evacuated from the western bank in just under a week.
As tensions heighten, Russian authorities have suggested a “dirty bomb” could be used by Kyiv.
A dirty bomb is a conventional explosive device that has been laced with radioactive material.
Also known as a radiological dispersal device (RDD), it involves mixing explosives such as dynamite with radioactive powder or pellets.
Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons, having given up the ones it inherited from the Soviet Union in 1994.
The UK, US and France have rejected the claims as “transparently false” and said the world would see through any attempt to use it as a pretext for escalation.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the UK, US and France said: “Our countries made clear that we all reject Russia’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory.
“The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.
“We further reject any pretext for escalation by Russia.”