The Dam Burst

The Ukraine war continues to pose a challenge to European security
The Dam Burst
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On June 6 a wide section of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnieper River in Ukraine was breached sending torrents of water downstream. It flooded towns and villages and agricultural land leading to the evacuation of thousands of people by both Russia and Ukraine from territories under their control. It also raised concerns about ecological damage both up and down river from the depletion of the waters of the dam’s reservoir.

Predictably, both Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the damage to the dam which has been in the former’s control since the beginning of the war. Ukraine has stated that Russian forces detonated charges causing the breach in order to prevent or retard the expected Ukraine offensive to reclaim Russian held territory. On its part Russia has claimed that the Ukrainian missile attacks led to the disastrous breach in the structure which had already suffered earlier damage because of the war.

The Ukraine war on account of the Russian invasion which began on February 24 last year is a cause of continuing concern for European security; hence, it directly also involves the United States and China which now has global ambitions and has enhanced its reach. Its impact has been felt world-wide too because of its effect on grain and edible oils supplies, the energy market and fertilizers. It does therefore figure in the media most prominently in Europe and the US but in a major part of the world, including India, it is no longer generally front-page news as it was in the initial weeks and months when it began. This is because except for those whose lives are directly impacted by an incident or a continuing event, including violence and war, others move on to other and more immediate concerns.

This is the sad truth of human affairs whether in the domestic spheres of countries or in global affairs. Yes, continuing conflicts figure in diplomatic exchanges of political leaders and diplomats. They cast a shadow over multilateral and international meetings and diplomats contest the wordings of how they should be reflected in diplomatic documents. They are also used as fodder for contestations for regional and global influence and power but are for want of a better word, ‘absorbed’ and the world carries on with its business factoring in the impact of the conflict. However, in cases of a continuing conflict such as the Ukraine war it is when an extraordinary development occurs that international attention, including of those countries and peoples on the ‘sidelines’, is once again fully focused on it.

The breach of the Nova Kakhovka dam will fall in the ‘extraordinary development’ category for apart from the images of flood waters entering villages and towns leading to the evacuation of peoples it may cause long-term damage to Ukraine’s agricultural production. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant because the dam’s reservoir’s waters are used to cool it. However, a report in an internationally reputed news agency has quoted the International Atomic Energy Agency as stating “there was no ‘immediate risk’ to the safety of the plant. Its reactors have been non-operational for some time but continue to be cooled.

There is no doubt that Russia has targeted Ukraine’s civilian and military infrastructure since the beginning of the war. It had perhaps hoped that the Ukrainian government and people will not be willing to accept the destruction and death and that would lead to an acceptance of Russian demands. What it had obviously not factored in was the tenacity of the Ukrainian government which was bolstered by Western support and also Ukrainian nationalism. President Putin believes in Ukraine being central to the Rus people and a geographical core of a pan-Russian civilization which has been compromised by the present Ukrainian government and its fellow travelers. He has clearly overlooked that the Ukrainian people—as distinct from the Russian speaking population in the eastern and southern areas of the country which have now been formally amalgamated with Russia—have evolved a personality which is different from that which was common to both the Slavs of Russia and Ukraine in centuries past. There is an obvious emotional aspect to the Ukraine war in Putin’s mind and when sentiment and history get entangled in a bilateral conflict it becomes extremely difficult to find solutions based on logic and a cost/benefit basis. That is not unique to the Ukraine conflict. It has been demonstrated in many conflicts between peoples and countries through history.

Expectedly, the West has blamed Russia for the breach of the Nova Kakhovka Dam and resulting damage. China’s response though has been to focus on the need for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to end the war. Its spokesperson said on June 7 that China was “seriously concerned about the Kakhovka dam” and went on to hope “that all parties are committed to a political settlement of the crisis and work together to alleviate the situation”. India has all along emphasized that a diplomatic resolution of the war has to be found.

The question is whether the dam’s damage, if not destruction, which concerned UN officials are calling as “one of the most significant damages to civilian infrastructure” since the start of the war will bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table. It is noteworthy that territory amalgamated by Russia, including Crimea, will see the ill effects of the dam’s condition. However, it is unlikely that it will make Putin relent and while Ukraine and the West is putting much score on the likely Ukraine offensive (which will be adversely impacted by the waters now flooding some areas) it will really make no significant change to the ground held by Russia in Ukraine.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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