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There is a similar question here asking why Ukraine would blow up the dam. Russia, however, controlled the dam and could have blown it up to slowdown the Ukrainian counteroffensive, that was planned for sometime now.

What specific strategic benefits does the Russian military get by destroying the dam, that was in their control? Please include sources for the answers.

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    This question makes exactly the same amount of sense as the other question. I'm for both closing or both keeping open, whatever people prefer. Jun 7, 2023 at 7:51
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    I agree. Both or none, must be neutral and balanced. Would be enough to have one but I found no better way to fix as to ask another complementing and link.
    – Stančikas
    Jun 7, 2023 at 7:56
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    I feel both questions should be allowed but edited to be focused (e.g. the question doesn't need to include what both sides claim). And we should delete answers on both questions that are speculative (speculative ones are military and political theories that do not cite an military expert or a politician) and thus aren't likely to be factual.
    – sfxedit
    Jun 7, 2023 at 8:35
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    @sfxedit speculative ones are military and political theories that do not cite an military expert or a politician - basing one's judgement on military experts and politicians is hardly better, since these are primarily engaged in shaping public opinion rather than communicating the truth (these are not science textbooks.)
    – Roger V.
    Jun 7, 2023 at 12:02
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    @RogerVadim Besides biases which I freely admit to having, I couldn't possibly have answered on the Ukraine benefits of it - I just didn't see any, because of the mindset with which I was viewing the problem. The other Q's answers have some by now fairly rational arguments for UA gains, best argued by people looking at it from that angle. Jun 7, 2023 at 16:05

5 Answers 5

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With the great big caveat that we don't know what really happened:

Reuters

"Bearing in mind Russia is on the strategic defensive and Ukraine on the strategic offensive, in the short term it's an advantage to Russia, definitely," said Ben Barry, senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"It'll help the Russians until the water subsides because it makes it more difficult for Ukraine to do assault river crossings," he said in a phone interview.

The floodtide inundating the region will prevent the use of heavy weaponry such as tanks for at least a month, said Maciej Matysiak, security expert at the Stratpoints Foundation and ex-deputy chief of Polish military counter-intelligence.

Having cited sources, I want to add some more observations/opinions:

  • Shorter defensive lines are better, for the defender. They can concentrate more troops there, closer to each other, with no risk of outflanking. An extreme case of this would be Thermopylae (Spartans vs Persians). Conversely, the attacker wants to probe around and decide where to commit all his efforts.

  • Ukraine has been very diligent so far at diversions. No one really could make out what big outcome they were hoping to achieve with all their river crossings near Kherson, but they certainly made sense to annoy the Russians and force them to guard the area. Now, that's gone, at least for a while (see quote above).

  • If it was done on purpose, whoever did it has an advantage in this action, as they did not plan based on the status quo. Yes, that certainly counts for Ukraine as well, but if Russia did it, then they can expect to have thrown a bit of a spanner in Ukraine's either primary attack, or its diversions. Call it a first mover advantage, if you wish.

  • The flooding will not last forever and whatever benefits in terms of water crossing difficulties and mud the Russians get will not last forever (see again that quote above about a month). That was literally what Strelkov was quoted about in the matched Q:

    create a threat (in a week or two) of crossing the Dnieper in a wide area above Novaya Kakhovka - after a very significant decrease in the level of the reservoir and the same narrowing of the current water barrier.

    Yes, but right now the game clock is ticking on the Ukrainian side, with them having gone on the offensive. If they waste some of their time and momentum due to the dam breach than it costs them more now than it will cost the Russians with a shallower Dnipro, once the mud has dried up, if they've managed to hold off Ukrainians until that time.

  • Some will say that there is more flooding on the left/east side of the river, held by the Russians, thus making it less likely it was them. Well, yes, but asides from their sunk costs in mining and entrenchment, they want as much mud pools as possible between them and the Ukrainians, so that can also be seen as a feature (flooding terrain is a long established defensive practice, used by the Netherlands in WW2 for example).

ISW said it was unsure what happened and that they observed a number of Russian troops having to reposition themselves, so didn't plan well (the loss of those fortifications is a point also made by Strelkov):

Ukrainian Southern Operational Command Spokesperson Natalia Humenyuk stated that Russian forces are having to evacuate their forces on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River because subsequent flooding has disproportionately impacted the Russian-occupied bank of the river.[19] Footage published on June 6 purports to show Russian forces withdrawing from flooded positions, suggesting that these forces were not prepared for the flooding that resulted from the destruction of the KHPP dam.

Then again, the Russians did make use of it too:

Available footage from June 6, corroborated by claims made by Russian milbloggers, suggests that the flooding washed away Ukrainian positions near the Dnipro shoreline and forced Ukrainian formations to evacuate while under Russian artillery fire.[34]

Keep in mind, this is quite a big escalation in terms of material damage and also in terms of Crimean water supply. While it might mess with fortifications, it is likely that initial planning was done assuming that this dam would not need blowing up. And Russia did from the get go have a fairly deep and comprehensive network of fortifications (standard WW2 Soviet practice, digging in), not all is on the river. Losing some of the waterside ones but with second set available to rely on isn't such a bad deal if Ukraine can't cross.

This BBC article has a good map, dated May 8th, scroll down a bit, it's the first actual map. There are plenty of fortifications inland.

enter image description here

p.s. at the risk of stating the obvious, the dam was a major way to cross the river. That is where the Russians were doing land logistics when their troops were on the West bank, but after the bridges at Kherson had been blown up. They evacuated Kherson just near the time when Ukraine would have the dam and its approaches under artillery range.

IF, and that is a huge IF, Ukraine had managed to seize the dam by surprise, neutralize any explosives, they could have used to get troops across in a way that has no equivalent until hundred of kms up North, near Zaporizhzhia. And certainly way above the potential risk of amphibious crossings of the river. Likely? No. Risky? Yes. But similar things happened in WW2, such as the bridge at Remagen (1945), in 1940 by the Ardennes, 1944 bridges in Normandy. As a potential crossing point on its own, the dam was always a low probability, high impact, risk for Russia. They had to guard the backdoor, now they don't.

p.p.s. At least one expert, Maciej Matysiak cited in first quote, (Polish) thinks Ukraine probably had it in its list of contingencies (and again cites the benefits).

The Russians are trying to protect themselves from the Kherson side, which does not mean that the south is cut off. The Ukrainians certainly expected such a scenario, he noted.

...

The Dnieper is a significant water obstacle, this only strengthens this obstacle. Certainly, the Ukrainians took this into account, he stressed.

p.p.p.s.

Back to Russia shelling Ukrainian troops withdrawing from water rise. The more I think about it, the more it seems very incidental and more a side effect than a primary decision driver: why would they not do it if they had the opportunity? Remember this breach is a big event, politically, strongly condemned by UN. Just to take potshots at some UA troops, which is std combat behavior? I would be surprised if Ukraine hadn't done exactly the same to those Russian troops vacating their entrenchments. ISW almost never reports/speculates on UA activities before Ukraine acknowledges them - they say so themselves. They're not dishonest about it, they just don't want to help out Russian military planners.


Urrf, this is getting to War and Peace length, bear with me, but I'll summarize a 15 minute YouTube from Anders Nielsen (Danish military analyst, usually a quite insightful guy). He states he is speculating:

  • it was probably them Russkies wot did it, but...

  • the dam wouldn't collapse accidentally, nor by artillery, just too big.

  • it is a RU military gain, in the short term, but that might reverse to a relative UA gain in the midterm (weeks/months) due to reduced Dnipro/lake. As an extra barrier now, sure, it works, but the Dnipro was already such an obstacle that it hardly seems worth it.

  • the dam's road bridge was unusable by Ukraine (so much for my theory) due to Russia's thorough demolition in Oct/Nov 2022.

  • Russia would have had much to gain from blowing the dam, if Ukraine had a major operation underway in East Kherson at the time. Maybe to strand/incapacitate troops. Ukraine did not, so it is a one-shot weapon, used at the wrong time.

He concludes Russia probably did it, but likely by accident/miscommunication/bad decision, because it wasn't worth playing this ace card now and not having it as a backup later: mistakenly firing demo charges, high level panic about (small) Dnipro incursions and UA counteroffensive, overreaction/panic by local demolition garrison who might have thought the situation had reached their stated "blow dam if X happens" instructions, etc...


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    I would say having some troops that need to reposition themselves cannot really be used as an argument that one side didn't do it. If you tell every grunt to move out of the flooding area a day in advance because the dam is going to be destroyed this will be noticed by the other side and will provide clear proof that your side did it. If you want any deniability of guilt than at least parts of your own side need to be surprised and negatively affected.
    – quarague
    Jun 7, 2023 at 6:56
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    @quarague Yes, very much so. But also, if you've had a long term plan to defend the shore, but now you decide to activate a contingency and blow the dam, then having dug trenches and laid mines may be a loss, but it does not mean you could not have pursued both approaches at the same time for rational reasons. And your comment is a good reason for trading off some inconvenience. In any case ISW talks about abandoned RU positions and so did Strelkov on the linked Q, so I thought it best to mention it and address that aspect. Last, this is RU: their planning n coordination can suck at times Jun 7, 2023 at 7:02
  • Keep in mind that the lain mines may not be a write-off; they are unlikely to be displaced (and those that are will likely settle out lower downstream before the high water recedes) and can remain very dangerous once the mud dries.
    – S. G.
    Jun 9, 2023 at 15:03
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+500

As an addendum to IP4M's answer...

The Dnipro is a major river, and as such attempted crossings saw no small amount of action during WWII (usually then known as the "Dnieper"). Its kinda infamous for this to military historians.

As of last week, Ukraine controlled the north/west bank, and Russian forces occupied the south/east bank. There used to be only 2 major bridges across its lower reaches, one being the top of that dam, and the other at Kherson. Upriver from that point for hundreds of miles clear back to Zaporizhzhia is an artificial lake that makes a quite effective barrier between the two sides. This allows both belligerents to economize on troops on that part of the front, as long as the river below that point can be held. But of course that's more valuable to the side that is on the defensive, which as of this week became Russia.

enter image description here

When Russia withdrew from Kherson last year, they blew the Kherson bridge. As of yesterday (6/6/23) at least, it has not been repaired. That left the bridge atop that dam as the only way across the Dnipro for hundreds of miles.

With the dam gone, its bridge is gone now too. Whatever else that does, it drastically simplifies the defensive task for the Russians in the south, right when they were going over to the defensive.

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    Ask and ye shall receive Antonevsky's still kaputt. One tiny remark: RU may have blown the bridges, but Ukraine had HIMARSed them to near-uselessness beforehand. That was a big part of their Kherson push strategy - logistically starving Russian troops on the West bank, rather than relying on just head on combat. No one did all that much to the dam itself, because that would have been a bridge too far (sorry, bad pun). Jun 7, 2023 at 22:17
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - Perhaps that's part of why Ukraine has seemed disinterested in making this an active sector. Since Kherson was liberated last year, they've seemed content to just sit on their side of the Dnipro and let the action be elsewhere. Whatever the reason, the fact that there has been next to no fighting here recently, and no troop buildups (that I've heard of), does make the blowing of that dam look rather like a pointless attack on a civilian target (aka: a war crime), despite the theoretical defensive utility.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 8, 2023 at 3:09
  • I'd be scared to death planning a major amphibious crossing on that river as a top UA commander. Not just the crossing, sustaining logistics once you're across and having a line of retreat. You're aiming for Inchon and then, next thing you know, it's all Dieppe and Gallipoli on you, baby. Esp. without reliable air superiority. It would be easy to end up with all your new Western armor stranded on the East side, without gas or ammo. That said, the latest ISW indicates hefty damage to Russian fortifications. Jun 8, 2023 at 4:02
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - IIRC, the Soviet forces in WWII solved the same problem in the same area by attacking everywhere at once with overwhelming numbers, and just accepting big losses. Not really an option for Ukraine here.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 8, 2023 at 13:04
  • I'm seeing reports this morning that Ukraine's counter-attack has begun just south of Zaporizhzhia, the town mentioned in this post as being on the other end of that lake that makes such an effective blockage.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 8, 2023 at 14:22
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The ISW notes that Ukrainian forces came under fire while they evacuated flooding positions. It would appear reasonable that if one side knew the event would happen, and the other did not, they could prepare interdiction fire on evacuation routes. The ISW also quotes Ukrainian sources which called the (Russian) organization of the (alleged) demolition "chaotic," which would seem to undercut this reasoning unless the Ukrainian claims are propaganda.

The ISW wrote half a year ago that demolition of the dam might improve Russian defensive positions. Russia did not blow the dam then, which might be explained by the temporary effects. Once the water is gone, they can't do it again.

Note: It seems plausible to me that the Russian strategic command authorities would order the preparation of the dam for demolition, and delegate the execution decision to some lower echelon like a corps or military district. This echelon would then leave contingency orders with the people who actually pulled the trigger (if it was demolition and not lack of maintenance by the occupying forces).

The ISW is clearly a partisan source, but widely quoted by reputable Western media.

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The strategic benefits that the Russian military got by destroying the Kakhovka dam include achieving these goals:

  • Make Ukrainian counteroffensive harder by making the terrain less passable by Ukrainian ground troops, in particular by vehicles, especially by armored vehicles.
  • Destroy the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant as a substantial electric power source for Ukraine, if it comes again under Ukrainian control. This is consistent with the continued Russian military campaign to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure.
  • Threaten Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Cause substantial damage to Ukrainian economy and natural resources by causing ecocide, making land less habitable, and damaging civilian objects downstream of the breach. An important objective is also to substantially decrease the arable land area that is irrigated by the water upstream of the dam.
  • As a consequence of the damage to the irrigation infrastructure, decrease the agricultural exports of Ukraine. This achieves two goals at once:
    • damage the Ukrainian economy, and
    • increase global hunger, which can cause a migrant crisis across the world, which in turns can cause political upheaval and regime change in the Western countries allied with Ukraine.
  • Make large areas less habitable and thus increase the number of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced people, weakening the resolve of Ukrainian people and causing political unrest in the Western countries that accept Ukrainian refugees.

References:

Ukrainian authorities said an evacuation of 17,000 people was underway from the territories under Ukrainian control, with 24 villages flooded.
...
Former minister of ecology Ostap Semerak said that this is the biggest environmental catastrophe in Ukraine since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
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The flooding was expected to hinder a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive by making it harder for the Ukrainian army to cross the Dnieper River into the Russian-occupied territory. According to some Western military experts, Russian forces benefited militarily from the flooding. Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of occupied Kherson, stated, "In military terms, the situation has worked out in a way that is operationally and tactically in favour of Russian forces". He claimed that it would make it easier for Russia to defend the area.
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Water from the dam reservoir supplies Southern Ukraine, Crimea, and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. As floods affected water pipes in Southern Ukraine, President Zelenskyy said that hundreds of thousands of people do not have "normal access to drinking water" in the region.
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According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture, the destruction of the dam will leave 584,000 hectares (1,440,000 acres) of land without irrigation, turning them into "deserts". In 2021, farmers harvested from this land about 4 million tons of grains and oilseeds, representing about 4% of Ukraine's grains and oilseeds production.
...
The destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant has resulted in the loss of 350 MW of hydro generation capacity in the region,[42] which is enough to power 350,000 typical European homes.

Destruction of the Kakhovka Dam - Wikipedia


The release of over 18 cubic km of water within a span of 3-4 days poses a significant threat to nearly 80 settlements, potentially affecting around 100,000 inhabitants directly, while up to one million people could lose access to drinking water.

However, the destruction of the dam, beyond these immediate humanitarian needs, will have a significant impact in the longer term on a much larger geographical area and population. It will have severe, long-term impacts on Ukraine's environment, economy and society, including possible displacement and migration of population, and is likely to cast a dark shadow over the country for decades to come.
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The dam destruction has devastating effects on the ecosystems of the Kakhovka reservoir and the lower Dnipro River. Repercussions will extend to the flora and fauna of the Black Sea. An estimated 80,000 hectares of protected areas, including the Lower Dnipro natural reserve and Askania-Nova reserves, are at risk of destruction and will be carried downstream towards the Black Sea.
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The breach of the dam has resulted in the loss of the Kakhovka hydro power plant (HPP), a crucial source of clean energy for southern Ukraine. The reconstruction of the HPP is estimated to cost more than 1 billion USD.

While the HPP has already been disconnected from the main power system of Ukraine, the consequences of this disaster are significant. The destruction of the Kakhovska HPP in the long term diminishes the automatic frequency restoration reserves within Ukraine's power system, making system balancing more challenging and costly. The flooding has caused the destruction of electricity infrastructure, leaving approximately 20,000 residents without power. Moreover, there is a risk of the Kherson Heat and Power Plant being affected, which could impact around 140,000 individuals.

Furthermore, the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) relies on water from a reservoir directly connected to the Kakhovska HPP's reservoir. The potential loss of the primary cooling water source further exacerbates the already challenging nuclear safety and security situation.
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It is anticipated that climate displacement and migration may prompt up to 400,000 people to leave the southern regions of Ukraine in the coming years. Immediate as well as midterm solutions for livelihood opportunities, shelter and housing and sustainable access to essential services, will need to be identified to prevent massive population displacement and internal/external migration from this region.

Potential Long-Term Impact of the Destruction of the Kakhovka Dam: UNCT Joint Analytical Note (9 June 2023)


The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of negative consequences for hunger worldwide following the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine.

“The massive flooding is destroying newly planted grain and with it hope for 345 million hungry people around the world for whom grain from Ukraine is a lifesaver,” the head of the WFP’s Berlin office, Martin Frick, said on Wednesday.

"WFP warns of global hunger over Kakhovka dam destruction": NewsAgency of Nigeria, June 7, 2023


In October, RT’s director of broadcasting, Anton Krasovsky, suggested drowning Ukrainian children, setting Ukrainian homes on fire — with the inhabitants inside — and alleged that Ukrainian grandmothers would gladly pay to be raped by Russian soldiers. He insisted that Ukraine should end in its current form, with its only surviving sliver zoned for pig rearing. Krasovsky felt the need to clarify that when he said “pigs,” he did not mean Ukrainian women.

In October, Pavel Gubarev, a Russian political figure who proclaimed himself the “People’s Governor” of the Donetsk Region in 2014 and later as leader of the Donbas People’s Militia, explained that Ukrainians were, “Russian people, possessed by the devil,” and that Russia’s aim was to “convince them” that they are not Ukrainian. He added: “But if you don’t want us to change your minds, then we will kill you. We will kill as many of you as we have to. We will kill 1 million or 5 million, we can exterminate all of you.”
...
It is easy enough to understand the link between talking points that routinely compare the Ukrainians to animals, bugs, or worms with atrocities like Bucha, the torture and murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war, attempts to freeze and starve civilians to death by destroying critical infrastructure and forcibly deporting Ukrainians — including children — to Russia.

Russian academics are happy to explain the logic of Kremlin-directed violence and to provide an intellectual gloss. It is explained that attacks to deprive Ukrainians of electricity, running water, and food are part of a bigger plan. So the forced movement of millions to Russia is to compensate for its severe demographic shortcomings, while 8 million more have been pushed westwards to overwhelm Europe and undermine its economy by creating a refugee crisis. In October, speaking on Solovyov’s show, Andrey Sidorov, Deputy Dean of world politics at Moscow State University, acknowledged that Ukraine’s destruction had a secondary benefit: “We should wait for the right moment and cause a migration crisis for Europe with a new influx of Ukrainians,” he said.
...
In the world of Russian state TV, everyone has a soul, but not everyone has a right to live out their life. Some things are just more important, as Professor Elena Ponomareva of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations explained on Solovyov’s show in March: “Never let morality prevent you from doing the right thing. I understand the importance of a humanitarian component . . . but morality shouldn’t get in the way.”

Julia Davis: "‘Morality Shouldn’t Get in the Way’ — Russia’s Genocidal State Media", Center for European Policy Analysis, March 13, 2023

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  • That scorched earth scenario makes sense only if Russia assumes it loses that land due to Ukraine offense, which does not seem to be the case. Otherwise, dam breach just scorches lands under Russian control.
    – alamar
    Jun 16, 2023 at 6:09
  • @alamar Whether or not it makes sense, this scenario is consistent with the Russian plans as expressed for months on Russian State TV. I updated the answer and added the reference to the article by Julia Davis detailing these policies and aspirations. Jun 16, 2023 at 11:49
  • None of this explains Russia scorching its own held territory, other than if you want to imply that Russia wants to scare locals into resettleing into Russia proper, which is not claimed anywhere in the answer.
    – alamar
    Jun 16, 2023 at 12:13
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In addition to the other reasons described in the others answers, there is a strategic reason for Russia to do this.

Russia is clearly losing the war and it maybe looking for reasons to wrap it up without looking like it has lost.

This explosion, which was unquestionably without any doubt caused by the Russian troops, drained the main supply of fresh water to Crimea:

Reuters

...The reservoir feeds the Soviet-era North Crimean Canal - a channel which has traditionally supplied 85% of Crimea's water. Most of that water is used for agriculture, some for industry, and around one fifth for drinking water and other public needs...

(the link also contains some quotes by the members of the Russian government, but the above statement is unquoted, so it is a statement from the news agency Reuters itself)

So Russia gained an excuse to "evacuate" Crimea at some point in the near future.

Which is to say, this gives Russia a way to surrender Crimea without losing face.

This may seem far fetched, but the alternative is to wait for Ukraine to have a superior air force supplied by the donor nations.

If Russia waits to evacuate until that happens, it will likely suffer severe equipment losses. This would undermine not only its ability to protect its other borders, but also to deal with any potential political instability inside of its borders.

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    Absolutely nothing we've seen in the last 6 months gives any idea that Russia wants to back down. I wish Ukraine all the best in its counteroffensive, but to claim, before it's really gotten started that Russia already knows it's beaten stretches credulity. They're certainly hoping the opposite; that UA will struggle just as much attacking as RU. I'd wager the opposite: another Izyum/Kherson level debacle will not bring Putin to the negotiating table, not unless the population starts to freak out or the army collapses on the front. Plus, this is a political, not military argument. Jun 8, 2023 at 1:32
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Russia is bending over backwards trying to convince everyone not send Ukraine tanks and planes. They've pulled out all the stops. But it's not working. The numbers of countries that have committed to sending planes is only increasing. If Russia wants to hedge (on the possibility of a loss), it needs to make that possible ahead of time. They knew that Crimean water supply would be lost. There was no way to blow the dam and not lose the water to Crimea because that's where the water came from. Enabling retreat is a military reason.
    – wrod
    Jun 8, 2023 at 3:04
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    Have you got any evidence for "..was unquestionably without any doubt caused by the Russian troops.." (emphasis mine) because that's an awfully high level of confidence for something that, without evidence, simply boils down to "I think this is the case". Jun 8, 2023 at 8:15
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    @LioElbammalf I could not have said better myself. As people vote on this A, ask yourself this: with the same level of substance, and sourcing/references given, if given as an answer on the sister Q asking about UA motivations it said: "UA blew the dam up cuz it knows it's beaten", how would you vote? This is a feel-good answer that only works because it fits many of our - I include myself - negative opinions about Russia. Not because it followed the OP's admonition to please source assertions about military arguments. Gets a totally free pass on this. Jun 8, 2023 at 20:48
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    What (apart from Russian propaganda) makes you think that this event is going to significantly threaten water supply to Crimea? This particular source of water was unavailable between 2014 and 2022 and Crimea was perfectly able to make do with what they had. Losing something they only had for a year is fairly unlikely to actually affect anything.
    – TooTea
    Jun 9, 2023 at 8:14

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