On the morning of June 6, 2023, 1000’s of Ukrainians awoke to the sounds of dashing water following an explosion on the Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River.
For my part, as a profession U.S. particular forces officer, the best reply is most frequently appropriate and supplies the almost certainly clarification for the dam’s destruction. It’s my perception that Russia intentionally destroyed the dam to defend in opposition to the Ukrainian counteroffensive that it believed was imminent.
As anticipated, the flooded river has created an insurmountable impediment in southern Ukraine, which is permitting Russia to reposition troopers from Kherson – the place the harm is most acute – to different areas to help their protection.
It has additionally created a huge humanitarian disaster that Ukrainian navy officers should resolve whereas on the identical time plan and execute counteroffensives geared toward expelling Russian troops from their nation.
An age-old navy technique
Often called hydraulic warfare, the deliberate flooding of an space throughout fight is nothing new.
Fairly on the contrary, it’s an efficient defensive approach that dates again lots of, if not 1000’s, of years.
In one other occasion, the Chinese language navy breached levees alongside the Yellow River in 1938 to sluggish the Japanese advance.
In one more instance, in 1941, Russian secret police blew up the hydroelectric dam on the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, to sluggish the Nazi advance.
How Ukraine has used the identical tactic
Within the present conflict in opposition to Russia, the Ukrainian navy has additionally employed hydraulic warfare to efficiently defend its capital, Kyiv.
Within the opening days of the conflict in February 2022, Ukrainians breached a dam on the Irpin River – after different strategies of managed flooding failed – to impede the big, mechanized Russian formations advancing on Kyiv from Belarus.
The Ukranians additionally intentionally flooded the Zdvyzh and Teteriv rivers to make them unfordable and bolster their protection of Kyiv.
These floods performed a important half within the most vital battle of the conflict up to now.
There may be nothing inherently inhumane about hydraulic warfare, however when employed, it ought to meet the constraints of navy necessity and proportionality as prescribed by worldwide humanitarian legislation.
That is the place the destruction of the Kakhovka dam by the Russians differs from the dams destroyed by the Ukrainians.
For my part, the Ukrainians performed a calculated breach that minimized the harm to the dam and triggered the mandatory flooding of the Zdvyzh and Teteriv Rivers to create an acceptable impediment.
The destruction of the Irpin dam was pretty restricted: 50 of the small village of Demydiv’s 750 houses have been destroyed. Extra vital, few have raised considerations concerning the long-term ecological impression from this navy act.
Whereas it’s too early to inform the total impression of the Dnieper’s flooding, it’s anticipated to be a lot greater than the Ukrainian breach of the Irpin – with some navy observers questioning the ethics of this harmful act.
Already greater than 17,000 folks have been affected within the flooding zone, and that would rise to greater than 40,000. There may be additionally a menace of floating landmines and an ongoing problem to offer consuming water to 1000’s.
How the flooding helps Russia’s protection
After Russia’s monthslong offensive culminated in little greater than the seizure of the small metropolis of Bakhmut, Russia has now transitioned to a defensive posture to forestall Ukraine’s a lot anticipated counteroffensive.
In such a posture, the Russian protection has some benefits.
Defenders battle from fortified positions, whereas attackers should advance from uncovered, susceptible positions whereas overcoming obstacles, similar to flooded streets.
As such, it’s a broadly accepted rule of thumb that attacking forces will need to have a 3-to-1 drive ratio to defeat a dug-in defender. In different phrases, for each 100 defenders, attackers will want no less than 300 troopers.
However the offense has its personal benefits.
The attacker can select when and the place to conduct the assault and thus mass forces on the level of the assault to attain this mandatory drive ratio.
The defender, against this, should unfold its forces throughout the battlefield, if it can not appropriately anticipate the purpose of assault.
Not desirous to tip its hand to when and the place the assault will happen, the attacker will usually make use of deception to confuse the enemy as to the place the assault will happen.
Typically, attackers can even conduct probing assaults to evaluate the place enemy defenses are weakest and assist refine the situation for the principle assault.
That is probably what was enjoying out within the weeks instantly previous Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s announcement of “counteroffensive actions” on June 12.
Russia nonetheless maintains a bonus relating to troop energy, however the benefit isn’t as overwhelming because it was at first of the conflict.
A pure protection
Even with superior numbers, it’s my perception that the Russians can not mass its forces alongside all the defensive position. Nor for my part may they appropriately anticipate the situation of Ukraine’s foremost counteroffensive effort.
In consequence, intentionally flooding the Dnieper River removes the Kherson Oblast as one probably counterattack location and permits Russia to reposition troopers defending there into the Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts — areas the place Ukraine’s foremost assault is more likely to happen.
Thus, blowing the dam up was a calculated and militarily smart defensive technique – even when doubtful from the angle of worldwide humanitarian legislation.
It additionally created a humanitarian disaster that Russia little question anticipated, and has additional leveraged to its tactical benefit.
Coping with huge human or human-made disasters is tough sufficient for any nation, not to mention a nation preventing for its survival.
For the reason that breach of the Kakhovka dam, Ukraine has needed to take care of the inflow of recent assist staff and tens of 1000’s of people that have misplaced their houses, each main distractions from its massive counteroffensive.
To make issues much more difficult, Russia continued to shell the flooded areas to make rescue efforts all of the harder.
The conflict is more likely to final many extra months or years, but ecological devastation from this most up-to-date human-made flood is more likely to final for much longer.
Greater than a 12 months later, the Irpin River stays flooded, and a few houses and farmlands have been destroyed or stay unusable.
Sadly, the flooding of the Dnieper river will probably be extra devastating and final for much longer.