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Dambusting on the Dnipro
water, a weapon as old as time
Looks like one of the above the fold stories today will be the breaching of the dam on the Dnipro at Nova Kakhovka.
As outlined by the BBC;
A huge dam in the Russian-controlled area of southern Ukraine has been destroyed, unleashing a flood of water.
Ukraine's military and Nato have accused Russia of blowing up the dam, while Russia has blamed Ukraine.
Thousands of people are being evacuated from communities in the surrounding areas, with fears that any flooding could be catastrophic.
Here's what we know so far.
Where is the dam?
The Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant is in the city of Nova Kakhovka in Ukraine's Kherson region, which is currently under Russian occupation.
It was built in the Soviet era and is one of six dams that sit along the Dnipro river, which stretches all the way from the very north of the country into the sea in the south.
It's huge - locals call it the Kakhovka Sea as you cannot see the other bank in certain places. The dam holds water equal to the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah, according to Reuters.
There are a few theories about who/how the dam was breached, but one thing for certain, it isn’t to the benefit of Ukraine.
The flooding downstream will have all sorts of ecological, environmental, and economic impact. Upstream as the Kakhovka reservoir falls won’t be much better - not the least of which is how Europe’s greatest producer of electricity, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, will keep cool. (NB: SJS over on twitter links to a nice thread on the strike). All that exposed mud with its embedded Soviet pollution drying in the dry steppe summer turning in to toxic dust storms? Bleh.
What military impact?
First of all, using water as a weapon is as old as history. In conflicts great and small, either as a cause of a war or part of it, we have diverted rivers, cut canals, built dams to flood or starve. Both the Dutch and the Germans flooded The Netherlands as a defensive measure and more famously in living memory - we have the RAF WWII dambusters and just a few years later in Korea, the US Navy’s last combat use of air launched torpedoes.
We could discuss examples for hours.
So, dambusting is well inside the “norm” of conventional war.
At the operational level, even though downstream of this dam isn’t what I would consider a primary line of advance of any UKR offensive this summer, this flooding pretty much takes it off the table until the water falls to its proper level.
That being said, if the Russians really want to draw this war out and believe their conventional offensive power is no longer available to them to take all of UKR by military force - and dambusting is in play - then look at the map below.
If the Russians don’t really want all of UKR - which would mean they would have to pay to repair the damage done - there is a lot of more dambusting to do with huge impacts on all aspects of UKR military and economic capabilities, all the way up the Dnipro.
What can UKR do besides try to protect the remaining dams on the Dnipro?
Well, if dambusting is now on the table - there is a way to make Russia regret putting it there.
As I pointed out last month when the dam was first damaged (and this breach may very well be a result of that damage, time will tell) I reminded everyone that dambusting has always been one of Sal’s favorite Alt-COAs.
I am sure by now the Ukrainian General Staff is aware of the Tsimlyansk Reservoir formed by the damming of the Don River at Michurinets well inside Russia and athwart many of the GLOC to the front.
At 321 km from Donetsk, well within range of Storm Shadow.
Send 20. Send a message.
One little note on dambusting on the other side of Asia. As I started pointing out three years ago, should war break out with the People’s Republic of China and things start to get much larger and concerning for our side - i.e. not a limited war - then remember that the PRC created a huge critical vulnerability at the heart of her economic system - over 400 million of her most productive citizens live downstream from the Three Gorges Dam.
If we don’t have that plan already on the shelf, the entire planning staff in DC should be invited to pursue excellence elsewhere.