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Stephen Zhao: Tepid response to Kakhovka dam explosion paves way for nuclear disaster

by Stephen Zhao June 7, 2023 2:12 PM 4 min read
People being evacuated from flooded areas after the explosion at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant's dam unleashed floodwaters in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 7, 2023. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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On the morning of June 6 at around 2:50 a.m., an explosion erupts at the center of the Kakhovka dam, leading to its destruction and the flooding of much of Kherson Oblast. Having been mined by Russia over the course of last year and timed exactly to disrupt the Ukrainian counteroffensive, there is no doubt that the culprit is Russia.

The evidence that points to Russia is overwhelming. The dam was destroyed from the center, which some experts say rules out a dam failure as the damage would start from the edges of the dam in such a scenario. Destruction of the dam from explosives would require the use of hundreds of pounds of explosives and would best be done from inside, where the force of the explosion could be exerted against the entire structure.

Ukraine could only destroy it externally through constant shelling, whereas local residents reported hearing a single large explosion. The dam also lies under Russian control, in Russian-occupied territory, and we already knew that Russia had mined the dam back in October last year.

Ukraine war latest: Russia destroys Kakhovka dam, sparks environmental disaster
Key developments on June 6: * Russian forces destroy Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant * Large-scale flooding triggers evacuations from Kherson Oblast * Kakhovka dam breach causes damage to environment, infrastructure * World leaders denounce Kakhovka dam breach as war crime * Zelensky: Ukra…

However, mainstream Western publications declined to attribute the destruction of the dam to Russia. Instead, reporting only stated that Russia and Ukraine blamed each other. Meanwhile, media sympathetic to Russia or with ties to the Kremlin flooded the information space with conspiracy theories directly accusing Ukraine of responsibility.

Western leaders themselves were quick to condemn Russia for creating conditions for the disaster through their illegal invasion of Ukraine, but few attributed the dam’s destruction to direct Russian action. Most prominently, the U.S. explicitly stated that it did not have enough details to say who was responsible.

Regardless, the only reaction from Ukraine’s Western partners over the ecological disaster of the scale of Chornobyl were words of concern and moral indignation.

A view of floodwaters caused after explosions at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant in Kherson, Ukraine, on June 6, 2023. (Photo by Svitlana Horieva/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This tepid reaction dramatically raises the risk of Russia destroying the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Decision makers in Moscow will see that no matter what action they take, Western media and key Western governments will not attribute blame or take action until the dust is settled and they have enough evidence to win a court case.

Some of the ZNPP’s reactors are already mined, rigged to blow should Ukrainian forces see initial success in the counteroffensive and threaten their positions in Enerhodar.

Russia will detonate the reactors to create a radiological disaster to disrupt Ukrainian operations. They will accuse Ukraine of irradiating itself. Western media will report that Ukraine and Russia raise mutual accusations without attributing responsibility. Already paralyzed with fears of “escalation,” Western governments will use the foggy information space as an excuse not to respond. Russia, in turn, will escape any immediate consequence for their nuclear terrorism.

What are the consequences of the Kakhovka dam’s demolition?
The destruction of the Kakhovka dam can lead to serious humanitarian, ecological, economic, military, and legal consequences. The demolition was carried out by Russian forces in southern Ukraine in the early hours of June 6. And it’s among the most dramatic violations of the Geneva Conventions in…

Ukraine requested an international monitoring mission for the Kakhovka dam back in October 2022 and sought diplomatic pressure from Western governments to dissuade Russia from destroying the dam. Its request were ignored, and now over 40,000 people must flee the flood with untold ecological damage that will take years to heal.

Unless Moscow faces clear consequences from the international community, Ukraine will soon see an even bigger disaster on a nuclear scale.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the views of the Kyiv Independent.

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