Ukraine’s dam explosion is a red line: Russia must feel the consequences

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109 shares, 170 points

The writer is former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and author of ‘War with Russia’

Truly, the horsemen of the apocalypse have descended upon Ukraine. With the Kakhovka dam breach, Russia has seemingly added a grotesque act of environmental terrorism to brutal occupation, the continuing loss of a generation of young Ukrainian men and women in combat, the massacre of civilians and the destruction of cities on a scale not seen in Europe since 1945.

The immediate priority is international humanitarian support. But thus far, the response appears to have come under the ‘too difficult’ heading. Coming, as it does, in the early stages of Ukraine’s counter offensive, the flood will be a major distraction at a time when every heart, nerve and sinew is being strained to achieve a decisive victory. The relief effort will suck up resources Ukraine can ill-afford to spare, not least in the face of relentless Russian bombardment of rescue efforts in Kherson.

That said, the flood presents opportunities for Ukraine. Open source reports indicate the destruction of heavy equipment and flooding of Russian defences and minefields on the east bank of the Dnipro. Water supplies to Crimea are severely affected, with implications for Moscow’s garrison and capabilities there. The flood will also be a distraction for Russia at a time when it is facing multiple probing attacks on different axes along its lengthy front line.

The Ukrainians had probably already ruled out an amphibious assault crossing of the southern Dnipro against well-defended Russian positions on the east bank. Kyiv retains the initiative, having just launched its offensive with multiple combined arms attacks, including main battle tanks, against Moscow’s troops. It will continue to probe, identify weaknesses, launch raids and conduct deception operations so that when it concentrates force to attack, it does so against Russian weakness.

Ukraine was quick to accuse Russia of blowing up the dam from the inside, though its western allies have not yet committed themselves on the cause of the disaster. The danger is that if the Kremlin is prepared to create havoc on such a scale, then it is capable of further escalation: destruction of the Kyiv dam or the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the latter potentially resulting in a catastrophic radioactive leak with widespread environmental consequences. From here, the detonation of a tactical nuclear device is not implausible.

The strategic issue, not just for Ukraine’s partners in the west and Nato but for the global community, is to make Russia feel the consequences. Any acceptance of this humanitarian, economic and environmental atrocity merely invites Moscow to go one step further. A red line must be drawn. Ukraine’s partners must take the gloves off and ensure Kyiv has the means to really hurt Russia, for example by targeting the Kerch bridge or the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol harbour. Following the British lead by supplying more longer-range missiles, such as US ATACMS, and speeding up the deployment of F-16 fighter jets, would be a start.

Russia should be suspended from the UN General Assembly, as South Africa was in 1974. As for China and Russia’s tacit supporters in the global south, such as India, South Africa and Brazil, it is time to recognise that fence-sitting while war crimes are being committed is tantamount to being an accessory to the crime.

Moscow only recognises strength and where it finds weakness it will continue to exploit it. As the head of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence service told me and others in Kyiv at the end of April, the only way to influence Russia is to hit it in the face — and then talk. This means Nato must demonstrate real strength at its Vilnius summit in July, and produce more than another rhetorical expression of support for Ukraine.

Instead, alliance leaders must drive forward a Nato defence and deterrence posture that underscores Nato’s resolve to support Ukraine and begins the process of integrating Kyiv within the transatlantic community, including as a member of the alliance. Ukraine’s war aims must be endorsed in their entirety. The provision of military equipment, ammunition, training and support must become an alliance strategy rather than a bilateral arrangement between individual Nato members and Ukraine. Above all, a fast-track pathway to Ukraine’s membership of the alliance at next year’s Nato summit in Washington must be laid out.

This war is not only against Ukraine, but also against the west and Ukraine joining the west. Even when Kyiv has achieved its military objectives (which, with the full-blooded support of its allies, it can do), Russia will remain an angry, humiliated, traumatised, revanchist state determined to eliminate Ukraine and rebuild another Russian empire.

The only way to keep Europe free of war for generations to come is for Nato to establish a line of deterrent steel around its eastern frontier, with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and, perhaps one day Belarus, inside. This means the alliance needs to be prepared for the worst case: war with Russia. The long-term implications will be profound.

Source: Financial Times

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109 shares, 170 points

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