According to military expert Mölling, the blowing up of the Kachowka dam in southern Ukraine is not a clear turning point in the war. Rather, it shows how blank Russia is militarily.
tagesschau.de: Mr Mölling, what exactly do you know so far? Which side could be involved in the demolition of the dam?
Christian Molling: All we know at this point is that the dam is broken. Then the information war begins. You have to work with plausibility. First of all, does Ukraine have any benefit from this dam blow-up? I can’t see him.
Russia has a short-term advantage in that it will slow down the apparently incipient Ukrainian offensive and require a change of plans. Because with the destruction of the dam, there is now a need on the Ukrainian side to take care of the people in the region downstream and to evacuate the people.
Christian Mölling is deputy director of the research institute of the German Society for Foreign Relations (DGAP). He is an expert on security and defense policy in the EU, NATO and Germany.
“Whoever does this commits a war crimes”
tagesschau.de: For the people in the region it means more suffering, they lose their belongings, even if they survive with their lives. Can you tell us more about the extent?
Moelling: The number of people killed or injured as a result of being swept away by the flood depends on how quickly the alert and evacuation can take place. In recent weeks and months, there has been repeated talk that this could happen. The authorities may also have plans for this.
But that doesn’t change the fact that they will still have casualties, that people, and above all civilians, will once again become victims of a war crime. Because it has to be said quite clearly that dams must not be destroyed.
Anyone who does so commits a war crime. So the list for The Hague just keeps getting longer.
tagesschau.de: What concrete benefit would the Russian armed forces have from such a demolition at the current stage of the war?
Moelling: It could help that, in the short term, Russian forces can be relocated from the eastern part of Ukraine, which is still occupied by Russia, so that the troop levels there can be thinned out a bit and other parts of the front can be strengthened. This may be of interest to the Russians at this point in time, because the Ukrainians are obviously becoming more active in the Donbass.
Although we don’t know if this is part of the offensive, what is certain is that this blast will throw the Ukrainians off balance for a short time and they will have to adjust their plans. What that means for the time in two or three or four weeks cannot yet be foreseen.
“Ukraine can still continue the offensive”
tagesschau.de: What consequences do you suspect?
Moelling: The decisive factor will be what the water masses mean for the region. Will it end up being more passable or worse passable? But I wouldn’t see this blast as an extreme turning point in this war either. I don’t think so.
Also because Ukraine will continue its operations, its offensive. The Russian armed forces may buy some time for a moment. But I don’t see that that really helps them.
On the contrary, we are in a situation where the withdrawal of the Wagner troops in Bakhmut is further weakening the Russian defenses. Possibly a moment of weakness, which Russia is trying to compensate for by blowing up this dam, which is completely inadequate in terms of size and scale.
The Kachowka Dam
The dam, built in 1956, is located directly at Nowa Kachowka, the town of Kachowka is located a little further north-east from the dam. The structure was 30 meters high and more than three kilometers long. It dams the Dnipro just before it flows into the Black Sea to form the huge Kakhovka reservoir, which itself looks like a sea because of its size. It is about 85 kilometers downstream from the dam to Cherson, and about 150 kilometers upstream to the site of the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in the town of Enerhodar. The lake is located in the Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson districts.
“Zaporizhia nuclear plant must be further cooled”
tagesschau.de: The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant also gets its cooling water from the reservoir. According to the authorities, there is currently no immediate danger for the nuclear power plant, but many are still looking at it with concern. How do you assess the situation?
Moelling: If the nuclear power plant was affected by such a deliberate action, then Russia would have to fear further isolation. That would put other players under pressure. Whoever sets fire to nuclear material cannot get away scot-free. Basically everyone has made that clear.
At the moment, the situation seems such that there is no immediate danger to the nuclear power plant. It’s shut down. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need further cooling. The reactors and fuel rods continue to generate high levels of heat, so they must continue to be cooled.
tagesschau.de: It is said that the water supply of the Crimean Peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia, could also be massively disrupted. Who might be interested?
Moelling: No one. It was, I believe, in the weighing up of interests, in the question “what is more important to me?” made a decision. And if Russia blew up that dam, it has obviously decided that Crimea’s water supply is less important than stopping or slowing down the offensive.
“One-time effect from a military point of view”
tagesschau.de: So is the blast a Russian response to the Ukrainian offensive? The Ukrainian side said Russian forces blew up the dam “in a panic”.
Moelling: Obviously, Russia no longer has many options for action. Russia is obviously not in a position to escalate classically militarily, since militarily it is pretty blank. On the other hand, it is always the case in war that the actors try to make their counterparts stumble. For example, by creating a dilemma that forces the other person to abandon their original plans and react to something that cannot be ignored.
Military-wise, they have a one-time effect that will literally rush through. After that, there is a new normal to adjust to.
The conversation was led by Katja Keppner, tagesschau.de