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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How The Dam Destruction Will Impact Ukraine's Counteroffensive — And What That Tells Us

When both sides of a conflict blame each other for something as important as the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, there's only one way to understand what's going on: find out who benefits from the crime.

Three Ukrainian Servicemen aim their rifles towards the camera during training

Servicemen during a training session of the Offensive Guard of the National Guard, Kharkiv Region, Ukraine.

Pierre Haski


PARIS — Moscow and Kyiv continue to blame each other for blowing up the Nova Kakhovka dam in Russian-controlled Ukrainian territory. The dam's destruction is flooding the region around Kherson, the main town retaken by the Ukrainians last November.

It's a humanitarian and ecological disaster, and a major offense. It's worth pointing out that the Geneva Conventions formally prohibit attacks on dams, dikes or nuclear power plants, so this may constitute a war crime.

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The immediate consequence of this sabotage is that it could hamper a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive in this strategic region. If the Ukrainians had considered launching their long-awaited and much-trumpeted assault in the Kherson region, this is now doubtful.

The flooding and state of the soil over the next few weeks makes the passage of armored vehicles and troops no longer possible.

This could force Ukrainian forces to divert some of their resources to deal with the humanitarian emergency, and to review their attack plans. From this point of view, it's a setback for Kyiv.

High stakes

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.

Flooding after an attack on the Nova Kakhovka dam

A view of the flooded Dnipro River in Novaya Kakhovka after a dam was breached, June 7, 2023

Alexei Konovalov / ZUMA

New parameters

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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The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski


BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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