Russia floods Ukraine, and tankies flood Twitter
With every hour, water from a lake the size of greater London destroys another Ukrainian city. The flood will leave hundreds of thousands without access to drinking water. It will swamp a massive area of agricultural land. A vastly larger area will be deprived of irrigation and will soon be arid and barren. Homes are drifting down the river. So are dead bodies, of people and animals. So are landmines, covered with silt, making them harder to see.
Thousands of gallons of oils, gasoline, and agrotoxins will soon spill into the Black Sea. Romania, Georgia, Turkey, and Bulgaria will all suffer profound environmental damage. There will be a mass die-off of fish and other aquatic animals. Animal habitats throughout the region will be disrupted. Ukraine’s national parks—including the Black Sea Biosphere Reserve, also a UNESCO reserve—will be fouled for a generation. While there’s no immediate risk to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, if the reservoir behind the dam becomes significantly depleted, it will be difficult to fill its cooling system and run its diesel generators.
The suggestion that Ukraine did this to itself is preposterous—and it is profoundly offensive to a suffering people who are enduring the unendurable. Ukraine was a normal European country, with a normal country’s travails, before Russian barbarians took it into their heads to invade their country and then bomb, destroy rape, torture, and murder them—and kidnap their children and kill their animals—for a cause as bizarre as it is lunatic: to defeat Nazis, who according to Moscow have tunneled through time and pitched up in modern-day Ukraine, disguising themselves as Jews. And in addition to this unendurable suffering, Ukrainians must then hear Westerners say that they did it to themselves?
The explosion has caused an environmental disaster on Ukrainian territory, devastating Ukraine’s economy, agriculture, and citizenry in both occupied and government-controlled areas. Tens of thousands more Ukrainians will become IDPs. The Health Ministry is warning of a risk of cholera. It sets back Ukraine’s offensive in the south and eases pressure on Russian forces at that part of the frontline—Russia now has a much shorter frontline to defend. And it’s hardly the first time that the Russians have resorted to the scorched earth tactic in an attempt to inflict as much damage as possible on Ukraine: Remember how many places they’ve now gone and killed everyone, including the kids? They did this exactly as the counteroffensive began, forcing Russians back from their positions. And you seriously believe Ukrainians did this?
And still, the tankies are out in force, utterly abject and shameless, insisting Ukrainians did this to themselves. Just in time, and not one bit coincidentally, Tucker Carlson has returned, this time to Twitter, to propagandize for Russia. He is a disgusting, demented goblin. So are Michael Tracey and Kim Dotcom and RFK Jr. and Elon Musk and Rod Dreher and Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Matt Taibbi and the whole vatnik lot of them spewing vatnik word salad—“Nazis Maidan coup neocons Iraq CIA Victoria Nuland Russophobia!”—like zombie mimic machines. As they contemplate this cruel and brutish horror inflicted upon an innocent people, they peer over their spectacles from their safe perches in free and peaceful countries and dance for the monsters in Moscow—and why? Why would they disgrace themselves? Why would they disgrace us all?
Russian troops captured Nova Kakhovka and the Kakhovka HPP at the end of February 2022. They took the personnel hostage. They blew up the North Crimean Canal to supply water to Crimea. They mined the dam in April 2022, then began releasing water from the reservoir, flooding a neighboring village.
The dam was blown up with massive amount of explosives. They were placed there in advance. Ukrainian shelling could not, physically, inflict that kind of damage. It’s physically impossible—the dam was built to withstand a nuclear strike. Ukraine has been warning the world for months that Russia planned to do this. Zelensky has been begging for international observers at the dam. And now Russians who serve in the occupation contingent in Kherson Oblast are boasting of having done it, on video, saying they plan to blow up the rest of the dams on the Dnipro, too. The evidence that they did it is not subtle.
Russia is doing just what it did after its flunkies downed the MH17—flooding the zone with pure horseshit that doesn’t even stay consistent from one minute to the next. They’re disseminating a kaleidoscope of versions of the story to confuse and disorient the audience. We all know—or should know—by now how this propaganda machine works, yet the very same people fall for it again and again. They began by denying that the explosion happened at all—150 Russian websites, Telegram channels, and social networks insisted that according to the head of the Russian occupation administration everything at the dam was perfectly calm. Then they reversed course and began accusing Ukraine. Putin’s spokesman claimed the sabotage was committed by Ukraine because its “counter-offensive is over.”
Russian propagandists, as usual, posted several statements in the information field, which should simultaneously explain to Russians that the blow-up of the HPP was allegedly “beneficial to the Ukrainians,” but at the same time harmed Ukraine, and not the Russian military in the occupied territory.
Among the “calming” messages, the following can be distinguished:
the Russian military did not suffer, the destruction only harmed the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine;
the threat to the civilian population in the occupied territories is exaggerated, there will be no major evacuation.
… Russian top propagandists and pseudo-Ukrainian anonymous Telegram channels joined the promotion of the conspiracy theory that the explosion at the HPP was “a new Bucha that Ukraine needs to strengthen support from the West.”
As of now, at least in the Russian-language propaganda for internal consumption, they’re saying that of course Russia blew the dam—and this was a very good thing to do. They’re proud of it. As the tankies could easily discover if they cared about reality even a tiny bit.
The US will soon declassify intelligence indicating that Russia blew up the dam, but I’m certain the tankies will reject the evidence. Theirs is an impregnable worldview. It is usually merely stupid, but what they’ve said in the past 48 hours is contemptible, and shameful, they will be remembered for it, and they won’t be remembered kindly.
On the left bank of the Dnipro, the Russians have set up checkpoints to prevent Ukrainian volunteers from coming to help evacuate Oleshky, the worst-affected town. Zelensky is pleading with international organizations to rescue them. Residents are stranded on their roofs. Telegram is full of messages like these from their desperate relatives:
Help! How can people in Oleshky be saved? Everyone in the Red Army district is sitting on the roof, waiting for assistance. Animals are sinking, drowning.”
The Ukrainian military is dropping water by drone:
Ukrainians are desperately trying to save lives while Russians are trying to exterminate everything they see.
Have a look at the forecasts below from the Institute for the Study of War. They’re from last October. They predicted in detail exactly what just happened. As they wrote yesterday, “[The forecasts were] inaccurate at the time, but the reasoning supporting the forecast was and remains valid.”
On October 19, 2022, they warned that Russia might conduct a false-flag attack on the dam to cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro and prevent, or delay, Ukrainian advances across it:
… Russian forces are also setting information conditions to conduct a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. The Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro River and prevent or delay Ukrainian advances across the river. Surovikin claimed on October 18 that he has received information that Kyiv intends to strike the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, which he alleged would cause destructive flooding in Kherson Oblast. Saldo echoed this claim and warned that Ukrainian forces intend to strike dams upstream of Kherson City. Russian authorities likely intend these warnings about a purported Ukrainian strike on the Kakhovka HPP to set information conditions for Russian forces to damage the dam and blame Ukraine for the subsequent damage and loss of life, all while using the resulting floods to cover their own retreat further south into Kherson Oblast. The Kremlin could attempt to leverage such a false-flag attack to overshadow the news of a third humiliating retreat for Russian forces, this time from western Kherson. Such an attack would also further the false Russian information operation portraying Ukraine as a terrorist state that deliberately targets civilians.
On October 20, 2022, they wrote that Russia continued to prepare for this attack:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on October 20 that Russian forces mined the dam of the Kakhovka HPP and noted that the HPP holds over 18 million cubic meters of water, which would cause massive and rapid flooding of settlements along the Dnipro River, including Kherson City. Zelensky emphasized that the flooding would impact hundreds of thousands of people. Russian sources, however, continued to accuse Ukrainian forces of shelling the Kakhovka HPP and have widely circulated graphics depicting the flood path in the event of a dam breach. As ISW reported on October 19, Russian sources are likely setting information conditions for Russian forces to blow the dam after they withdraw from western Kherson Oblast and accuse Ukrainian forces of flooding the Dnipro River and surrounding settlements, partially in an attempt to cover their retreat further into eastern Kherson Oblast. Continued Russian preparation for a false-flag attack on the Kakhovka HPP is also likely meant to distract from reports of Russian losses in Kherson Oblast.
On October 21, they repeated the warning:
Russian forces will likely attempt to blow up the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant to cover their withdrawal and to prevent Ukrainian forces from pursuing Russian forces deeper into Kherson Oblast. Russian forces will almost certainly blame Ukraine for the dam attack, as ISW has previously assessed. Ukraine has no material interest in blowing the dam, which could flood 80 Ukrainian cities and displace hundreds of thousands of people while damaging Ukraine’s already-tenuous electricity supply. Russia, however, has every reason to attempt to provide cover to its retreating forces and to widen the Dnipro River, which Ukrainian forces would need to cross to continue their counteroffensive. Any claims that Russian forces would not blow the dam due to concerns for the water supply to Crimea are absurd. [My emphasis.] Crimea survived without access to the canal flowing from the Dnipro since Russia illegally invaded and annexed it in 2014 through the restoration of access following Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Russian officials have demonstrated their ability to indefinitely supply Crimea with water without access to the canal. Russian forces will try to hold eastern Kherson Oblast not for the water, but rather to provide a buffer zone that enables the defense of Crimea and prevents Ukrainian forces from getting into artillery range of the peninsula. Russian decisionmakers may believe that blowing the dam will enable them to retain that buffer zone. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on October 21 that blowing the dam could cut water supplies to much of southern Ukraine and would pose a serious risk to the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant, which lies upstream of the dam. The ZNPP relies on water from the Kakhovka reservoir to cool its facilities.
Of course Russia did it. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Russian behavior during the course of this conflict—or all the previous wars of aggression it has launched against innocent people—knows this.
But why, some asked? What does Russia have to gain by compromising its own defensive positions, choking off the supply of water the dam diverts to occupied Crimea, and flooding thousands of hectares of arable land Moscow had only recently annexed into the Russian federation proper? The questions are based on a false premise, one that presupposes Russia has any interest in preserving land it is attempting to seize or safeguarding the people it seeks to subjugate.
Russia had the motive. The dam’s collapse, which occurred within 24 hours of Kyiv’s admission that it had shifted from defensive to “offensive actions,” forecloses on the prospect of a Ukrainian river-crossing operation across the Dnipro into southern Kherson Oblast. At least for some time, access to the other bank of the Dnipro and a southern axis in the counteroffensive, if one was in the cards at all, will have to swing south from Zaporizhzhia. If little else, Russia’s beleaguered forces in Ukraine have bought themselves time and space to attrite Ukrainian attackers. Russia had the means. … Moreover, Russia has the mentality to pull off an operation this egregious—a classic scorched-earth tactic from the country that popularized the term.
From Timothy Snyder, condign advice to journalists writing about the dam’s destruction:
Avoid the temptation to begin the story of this manmade humanitarian and ecological catastrophe by bothsidesing it. That’s not journalism.
Russian spokespersons claiming that Ukraine did something (in this case, blow a dam) is not part of a story of an actual event in the real world. It is part of different story: one about all the outrageous claims Russia has made about Ukraine since the first invasion, in 2014. If Russian claims about Ukrainian actions are to be mentioned, it has to be in that context.
Citing Russian claims next to Ukrainian claims is unfair to the Ukrainians. In this war, what Russian spokespersons have said has almost always been untrue, whereas what Ukrainian spokespersons have said has largely been reliable. The juxtaposition suggests an equality that makes it impossible for the reader to understand that important difference.
If a Russian spokesman (e.g., Dmitri Peskov) must be cited, it must be mentioned that this specific figure has lied about every aspect of this war since it began. This is context. Readers picking up the story in the middle need to know such background.
If Russian propaganda for external consumption is cited, it can help to also cite Russian propaganda for internal consumption:
It is interesting that Russian propagandists have been long arguing that Ukrainian dams should be blown, and that a Russian parliamentarian takes for granted that Russia blew the dam and rejoices in the death and destruction that followed:
When a story begins with bothsidesing, readers are being implicitly instructed that an object in the physical world (like a dam) is really just an element of narrative. They are being guided into the wrong genre (literature) right at the moment when analysis is needed. This does their minds a disservice.
Dams are physical objects. Whether or how they can be destroyed is a subject for people who know what they are talking about. Although this valuable NYT story exhibits the above flaws, it has the great merit of treating dams as physical rather than narrative objects. When this exercise is performed, it seems clear that the dam could only have been destroyed by an explosion from the inside.
Russia was in control of the relevant part of the dam when it exploded. This is an elemental part of the context. It comes before what anyone says. When a murder is investigated, detectives think about means. Russia had the means. Ukraine did not.
The story doesn’t start at the moment the dam explodes. Readers need to know that for the last fifteen months Russia has been killing Ukrainian civilians and destroying Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, whereas Ukraine has been trying to protect its people and the structures that keep them alive.
The setting also includes history. Military history offers an elemental point. Armies that are attacking do not blow dams to block their own path of advance. Armies that are retreating do blow dams to slow the advance of the other side. At the relevant moment, Ukraine was advancing, and Russia was retreating. (My emphasis.)
Meanwhile, Kyiv says its troops in the east have advanced by more than a kilometer near Bakhmut. The Kremlin claimed Russia had fought off the attack, but Prigozhin says otherwise: He says Ukrainian troops have pushed past Russian defensive lines. He urged Putin to announce a full national mobilization: “I need 200,000 people. Less than 200,000 on the Luhansk-Donetsk frontline won’t cope.” He also said that unless these new units received three months of training, they’d be “cannon fodder.” He would know.
The destruction of the dam was, among other things, a way for Putin to test how the West would react to the detonation of a nuclear weapon. But I don’t see the reaction we should be seeing. We’re not sending the signal that he will never be allowed to get away with it. It isn’t even on the front page of the news anymore. A significant minority of our gullible, hypnotized public is perfectly happy to believe what the Kremlin tells them.
The disruption to global food and energy supplies and the impact on the world economy has cost magnitudes more than deterrence would have had we taken this seriously between 2014 and 22. We keep making the same mistake. Now our equivocation is costing lives, not just billions, and it will cost so many more— likely including many of our own—unless we react, now, in a way that says, “Don’t even fucking dream about it again.” The world must acknowledge Russia as a terrorist state. The Ukrainian Armed Forces must receive everything and anything to ensure victory. Russia is a global threat to humanity.
We can deter Putin, but it requires the will to do so. If we fail to act, God help Ukraine, and God help us.