Dam It

While thousands of overprivileged upper-middle class citizens across the world’s most advanced economies excitedly acclaimed the dawn of the “spatial computing” era courtesy of Apple’s $3,500 mixed-reality goggles, 16,000 Ukrainians anxiously pondered the prospect of being washed away by the Dnipro River after someone destroyed the second-largest of the waterway’s network of dams.

The Kakhovka dam and an associated hydroelectric power plant were under Russian control when an apparent explosion split the barrier in half on Tuesday, unleashing a Great Salt Lake-sized body of water, endangering thousands of people and raising fresh concerns about the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, a perpetual source of consternation for international observers during the conflict.

For months, Ukraine and Russia accused each other of scheming to destroy the structure. “We have information that Russian terrorists mined the dam,” Volodymyr Zelensky warned in October, calling for an international observation mission at the power plant. Zelensky said Moscow planned to blame Ukraine for any incident and the ensuing disaster downriver. At the time, a Kremlin puppet official in Kherson called Zelensky a “liar” and alluded to potential “sabotage” by Kyiv. On Tuesday, Russia blamed shelling for the dam’s demise.

The scope of the impending disaster was initially unclear. Potentially, the breach could create overlapping humanitarian and ecological crises, and may threaten the circulation of water in cooling pools for spent fuel at Zaporizhzhia. Zelensky advisor Mykhailo Podolyak lamented what he suggested will be “colossal damage” to the environment, while Dmytro Kuleba called Putin’s Russia “the greatest terrorist of the 21st century.”

“As a result of detonation of the engine room from the inside, the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power plant was completely destroyed,” Ukrhydroenergo, a Ukrainian hydro power company, said, in a statement. “The station cannot be restored.”

“IMPORTANT: The Russians blew up the Kakhovskaya HPP dam,” a release carried by Ukraine’s ministry of internal affairs read. “The water level is rising and everyone who is in the danger zone must turn off all electrical appliances, take documents and essentials [and] take care of loved ones and pets.”

The incident occurred very close to the frontlines. The timing is obviously notable: Ukraine’s counteroffensive is underway. Russia’s invading army commandeered both the dam and the power plant last year. An adjacent bridge reportedly suffered fresh damage in the lead up to Tuesday’s events, which prompted Zelensky to reiterate that he will not accept any peace accord that entails ceding territory to Putin. “Not a single meter should be left to them,” he said, on social media.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s global network of blogs and pro-Putin “journalists” were on the job, promoting various narratives, including the notion that the Ukrainian military might’ve destroyed the dam in an effort to engineer lower water levels upstream, making it easier for Zelensky’s army to cross and forcing Russia to divert resources or risk losing occupied territory on the other side of the river.

“Remember: The enemy is trying to spread misinformation, to remove responsibility for another crime,” the same internal affairs notice quoted above read. Podolyak said Putin is trying to “create insurmountable obstacles” for the Ukrainian military by flooding the region.

Zelensky held an emergency meeting with top security personnel, while local Ukrainian officials rushed to evacuate at-risk residents in dozens of imperiled settlements. The Kakhovka reservoir is a critical source of drinking water and irrigation for agriculture. Ukrhydroenergo warned of an “uncontrolled decrease in the reservoir level,” and said its experts were “working on clarifying the scale of destruction, speed and volume of water.”

Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, blamed Putin. Tuesday’s destruction, he declared, “clearly qualifies as a war crime.”

Add it to the arrest warrant, I suppose. And also to the ever expanding list of unsolved mysteries associated with the conflict, which might one day be remembered by the scattered survivors of World War III as the beginning of the end.

Dear Lord, please just let us make it to January so I can experience the apocalypse in Apple Vision.


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3 thoughts on “Dam It

  1. The arms length management of Putin that the West has been employing for decades is clearly not working. Who’s going to step up and force him out?

  2. There are 2 problems with “hoping” that Putin is removed from office.
    First- can anyone even get to him to remove him from office? If Russians or Ukrainians lead the effort to remove him from office, that seems morally justifiable (to me). However, if other foreign governments (ie- US) step in to lead the effort to remove him- even though the Ukrainians and much of the US and western Europe might be ok with that, we will have just opened the door to what could be a global precedent in a world where different groups of people have significantly different yardsticks for what justifies killing another country’s leader. That could be really scary.

    Having said this, my first choice would be to have some group take him alive so that he could be tried in Hague. That would be reasonable – but probably no one can figure out a way to do that, or it would have already happened.

    The second problem, in the event Putin is removed from office, is who will take over leadership of Russia and what does that look like- for Russians, for Ukrainians and for the rest of the world? I fear that Navalny won’t be alive by the time he would be needed.
    If the US is somehow involved with trying to figure out a way to remove Putin, hopefully, we have learned to think a few steps beyond the point in time when the actual removal from office occurs. Our more recent track record in this area is sketchy. Maybe there are some people working on this.

    It is hard to have no hope that a plan is in the works- but I am losing hope over time.

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