The rupturing of the Nova Kakhovka dam in Southern Ukraine, reportedly by Russian forces, will make launching a counter-offensive more difficult on the one hand, but on the other, it hints at a Russian decision to retreat, possibly even leaving occupied Crimea altogether, security expert Rainer Saks says.
"It will definitely disrupt [the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive], there's no doubt about that, but I don't think it means its cancellation. Maybe some plans will be expedited, perhaps some will be abandoned - I don't know for sure, but what is certain is it does not make it any easier for the Ukrainians to mount a counter-offensive," Saks told ERR on Tuesday.
Saks also highlighted what the decision to break the dam reveals about Russia's plans.
"If you look at the psychological aspect, Russia is saying that they no longer have the ability to control Ukraine, that they will not stay here, and that they will leave," the expert went on.
"Naturally, of course, Russia needs to resolve one more issue: Crimea's water supply arrives from the Kakhovka reservoir, via a canal, and this will now also suffer very seriously. This means that Russia is actually saying with this step that we will probably be forced out of Crimea, to leave," Saks added.
Saks: Russia's motive may be to divert attention
On Russia's motivation on blowing up the dam, Saks first highlighted taking the momentum from Ukraine, by penetrating below the dam, near the city of Kherson, and across the Dnipro River.
"The second motive can be that Ukraine's attention would then be drawn to this disaster and in dealing with its consequences, so this would reduce Ukraine's ability and desire to carry out a counteroffensive, to prevent it."
"Furthermore, with this incident, a certain amount of blackmail could be created in respect of the the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, whose cooling water flows out of this reservoir; as a result of the dam failure, supplies to the nuclear power plant will remain scarce, which in turn will create a lot of media pressure," he went on.
"And finally, getting the attention of the media is especially important for Russia, to divert it from the events in the Belgorod region and other front line areas, where things have started to go badly for Russia," he added.
Ukraine had taken possibility of dam destruction into account
Saks also noted that apparently Ukraine had already allowed for a possible blowing up of the Kakhovka dam, by Russia.
"Bearing in mind Russia already threatened the same thing last fall - when Ukrainian forces liberated the West bank of the Dnipro, Ukraine conducted a whole series of simulations, in order to assess which areas this flood would cover," he said.
The flooding would primarily damage the areas on the East bank of the Dnipro, where Russian troops are currently based, but at the same time there are also settlements in the occupied areas which local residents have had to leave. In addition, some settlements on the West bank of the Dnipro will remain flooded, so it may be required to evacuate some of the smaller suburbs in Kherson, Saks said.
"However, I'm quite sure that Ukraine has taken such a scenario into account also. It is clear that you can't really be prepared for that, but I would think that they were at least mentally prepared. It can also be observed that the appropriate headquarters are already ready to respond to this incident, and have started dealing with these problems," he stressed.
Ukraine blames Russia for Tuesday's explosion, which has led to widespread flooding in Kherson and surrounding areas. It is too early to say exactly how great the damage will be, though some estimates have put it at "devastating".
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots