If, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vehemently proclaims, it was indeed the Russians who blew up the dam, this is yet another step in the conflict's escalation.
Since the Russian invasion began, we've seen the blackmail of grain exports, a nuclear power plant taken hostage, civilian homes deliberately targeted and the destruction of entire towns. Unable to achieve its initial objectives of conquering power in Kyiv, Moscow is waging a war of unabashed brutality.
Putin cannot give the Ukrainians the slightest chance of success.
But the stakes are obviously high: Vladimir Putin cannot afford to give the announced Ukrainian offensive the slightest chance of success.
A view of the flooded Dnipro River in Novaya Kakhovka after a dam was breached, June 7, 2023
Alexei Konovalov / ZUMA
The Ukrainian army's offensive, which has been rumored in recent days to have already begun, has taken on political as well as military significance. Reinforced by Western weapons and troops recently returned from training in NATO countries, Ukraine has been preparing for weeks.
Ukraine faces a 1,000-kilometer wall of Russian defenses. If Russia succeeds in preventing the Ukrainian army from reclaiming a significant part of the occupied territories, the pressure will be on to transform Ukraine into yet another "frozen conflict." That is what the Chinese emissary to Europe proposed a few days ago: a ceasefire that would freeze the positions of both sides.
This is the only way for Moscow to consolidate its gains, and it is unacceptable to Kyiv as long as there is any hope of reconquering the territory by force. The partial destruction of the dam takes on a particular significance in this context: it changes the parameters of the Ukrainian offensive.
Taking back its territory has become a little more difficult, but Ukraine knows it has no choice.
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