October 31, 2022
TOKYO – Russia’s unilateral annexation of four Ukrainian regions in eastern and southern Ukraine has hit a snag.
Sunday marked a month since Russia declared the annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia. The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive continues, however, and residents’ opposition to “Russianization” remains strong. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration has tightened controls by imposing martial law in the regions, while using brinkmanship to deter Ukraine’s military by hinting that it would blow up a dam.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said in an interview with British TV that the Russian military was trying to blow up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant it occupies.
Danilov said that the Russian Army had mined the Kakhovka dam “with a huge amount of explosives.”
The Kakhovka plant is on Dnipro River that runs north-south through Kherson and can hold 18 million cubic meters of water. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that if the dam broke, it would flood 80 towns and cities, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant takes cooling water for its reactors from the upper reaches of the dam. Such an act by Russia could deplete the water supply and lead to a serious nuclear disaster.
Russia’s military, on the other hand, claims that the Ukrainian military is preparing a massive missile strike on the dam at the power plant, but it is clear that the claim is a Russian charade. The Ukrainian army’s missiles do not have the capability to destroy such a solid dam.
Behind Russia’s posturing is its impatience with Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
Since September, the Ukrainian military has recaptured more than 630 settlements in Kherson and elsewhere. Immediately after the annexation, it has also forced the Russian Army to retreat about 30 kilometers on Dnipro’s west bank in Kherson. Russia’s intention to prevent Ukraine’s advance is to threaten to scorch the land in order not to lose “new territories” it has annexed.
Russia’s tactics are reminiscent of those under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
In 1941 during World War II, Stalin blew up a dam in Zaporizhzhia to slow Nazi Germany’s advance, and the man-made flooding was believed to have killed up to 100,000 people, including residents. It is believed that Russia is trying to provoke Ukrainian memories, expecting to bring out some effects more than deterrence.
A senior official of the so-called government of Kherson installed unilaterally by Russia announced Friday that an “evacuation” of residents from Dnipro’s west bank, including Kherson’s capital, was completed under the pretext of avoiding an attack by Ukrainian forces. Between 60,000 and 70,000 residents moved to areas including Dnipro’s eastern bank, southern Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
The “evacuated” people are not allowed to go to areas controlled by the Ukrainian military. The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. policy research organization, reported that they were forced to settle in the places they have been taken. Stalin also forcibly relocated at least 3 million residents he unilaterally identified as rogue elements.
The Russian Army has begun to strengthen its defensive lines in the annexed regions by digging trenches.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Friday that the Russian military has reinforced its forces on Dnipro’s west bank and deployed about 1,000 mobilized soldiers. There is a growing belief that the Russian military is preparing for urban warfare to defend Kherson’s capital. About 150,000 people remain around the capital, it said.
A senior Ukrainian military official is wary that Russian troops, if forced to withdraw, could destroy all local infrastructure before leaving.