Russia has mined the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant on the Dnipro River in Ukraine’s southern Kherson Oblast, setting the stage for a "large-scale disaster," President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday.
"We have information that Russians mined the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant," Zelensky said in an Oct. 20 address to the European Council, the Kyiv Independent reported.
Zelensky's statement coincides with a previous assessment by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) that Russian forces are "setting information conditions to conduct a false-flag attack on the" plant. "The Russian military may believe that breaching the dam could cover their retreat from the right bank of the Dnipro River and prevent or delay Ukrainian advances across the river."
The dam "holds about 18 million cubic meters of water," the Kyiv Independent reported. "If destroyed, over 80 settlements, including the regional capital Kherson, will be flooded, Zelensky said. The president added that an international observation mission is needed, as "hundreds of thousands of people may be affected."
On his Telegram channel, Zelensky on Thursday said any Russian move to blow up the dam would signal their inability to hold territory in southern Ukraine.
“Now everyone in the world must act powerfully and quickly to prevent another Russian terrorist attack,” Zelensky said on his Telegram channel. “Undermining the dam would mean a large-scale disaster. With this act of terrorism, they can destroy, among other things, even the possibility of supplying water from the Dnipro to Crimea. In the event of the destruction of the Kakhovskaya HPP dam, the North Crimean Canal will simply disappear.”
“If Russia is preparing such a terrorist attack, if it is seriously considering such a scenario, it means that the terrorists are very clearly aware that they cannot hold not only Kherson, but also the entire south of our country, including Crimea.“
The roadway on top of the dam has been previously attacked by Ukraine in an attempt to interfere with Russian logistics in Kherson.
But blowing up the dam is something else entirely. Zelensky compared any Russian attempt to do so with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear weapons threats.
“We must now all together - all Europeans, all world leaders, all international organizations - make it clear to the terrorist state that such a terrorist attack on the Kakhovskaya HPP would mean exactly the same as the use of weapons of mass destruction. The consequences for Russia should be appropriate. The world must react - preventively. This is key now. The principle of preventive response to security threats should finally become one of the basic principles of international politics.”
Russia faces a big decision on what to do in Kherson City, where it just finished a pontoon bridge to replace one previously destroyed by Ukraine, something we covered in detail here.
The British Ministry of Defense, in its latest assessment, says Russia faces "a key challenge...extracting troops and their equipment across the 1000m wide river in good order."
And if Russia does decide to defend Kherson City, it may only do so with mobilized reservists, Ukraine's General Staff says, according to the Kyiv Independent.
Before we head into more from a busy day in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can get caught up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Though a "small number" of Iranian drone technicians and trainers are on the ground in Crimea, it is the Russian troops there who “have been piloting Iranian UAVs, using them to conduct strikes across Ukraine, including strikes against Kyiv,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday.
The Iranian trainers were in Crimea to help the Russians learn to operate Iranian drones, systems they were not familiar with. There were some initial operating and system failures, Kirby said.
Iranian drones, especially the Shahed-136, have been increasingly used by Russia in a wave of attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets in retaliation for an attack on the Kerch Bridge. The Pentagon on Thursday concurred with Kirby's assessment and said it was another example of Iran spreading terror around the world.
"We continue to see Iran be complicit in terms of exporting terror, not only in the Middle East region, but now also to Ukraine," Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon's top spokesman, told reporters Thursday. "In many ways, these drones are used as psychological weapons to create fear, but from a strategic standpoint, it still doesn't change the fact that Russian forces on the ground continue to lose territory or at best hold ground."
In recent days, Iranian officials have admitted they will sell Russia more drones, as well as ‘hundreds” of short-range ballistic missiles.
Despite Iranian denials, the Pentagon has previously said that so far, Iran has provided Russia with hundreds of drones. "We wouldn't be surprised" if they continue to do so, Ryder said Thursday.
As for Iranian denials that it's provided Russia with drones, Ryder was blunt.
"It's obvious that they're lying," he said.
Ryder said that with Russia's stocks of precision munitions depleting, they have been reaching out to Iran and North Korea "to seek additional ammunition and in the case of Iran, clearly to seek drone capability. Whether or not they will continue to do that is certainly something for Iran or Russia to address but we will keep an eye on that."
When asked if the recent Russian drone barrage will spur the provision of additional air defense assets to Ukraine, Ryder said that "Ukrainians have been pretty effective in terms of shooting a lot of those drones down."
Ukraine’s air force claimed that as of Wednesday morning 223 Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones had been downed since Sept. 13, when the first drone was shot down. The Guardian reported in a story about the high cost of using air defense systems to take out comparatively cheaper Iranian drones, a reality of this type of threat we have been detailing for years and more recently, in this conflict.
While not able to provide specific numbers of drones Ukraine has shot down or otherwise intercepted, Ryder said the result is that the Russians probably haven't "met their goals in terms of their ability to strike targets."
Still, "clearly they have wreaked havoc and caused destruction and killed innocent civilians and so it's a serious threat, and we will continue to work with Ukrainians to provide them with the capabilities that they need."
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba thanked the European Union for placing new sanctions on Iran over its drone transfers to Russia.
The U.S. is also considering additional sanctions on Iran and Russia over those transfers.
Contrary to official denials, a Russian Defense Ministry official accidentally admitted that Russia has been using Iranian-made "kamikaze" drones in Ukraine.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies NGO, was speaking at the beginning of a live interview broadcast on Russian business news portal RBC's "What It Means" program yesterday, apparently unaware his microphone was on, according to Business Insider.
"Let's not rock the boat too much, I'm begging you, [let's not focus] too much on these Iranian [drones] - because this is a classic story - there is an ass, but there is no word for it, ok? We all know that they are Iranian, but the authorities are not admitting it."
Afterward, Pukhov shrugged the incident off.
“Maybe I said it maybe I didn’t," he said. "Maybe it’s a setup. I don’t remember. My mind is all out of whack after COVID…"
Elsewhere on the battlefield, ISW said Ukraine continues to press the offensive in northwestern Kherson Oblast while Russians are continuing to try to recapture territory it lost during its full-scale invasion in northwestern Kharkiv Oblast.
Here are some key takeaways from ISW's latest assessment:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Oct. 19 declaration of martial law readiness is largely legal theater meant to legitimize activities the Russian military needs to undertake or is already undertaking while creating a framework for future mobilization and domestic restrictions.
- Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin is continuing efforts to set himself and Wagner Group forces apart from conventional Russian military elements.
- Russian forces continued to conduct limited assaults to recapture lost territory in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
- Russian and Ukrainian forces reportedly continued to conduct assaults in the Kreminna-Svatove area.
- Russian sources widely claimed that Ukrainian troops conducted another offensive push in northwestern Kherson Oblast.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a decree on Oct. 19 seeking to address Russian military personnel’s ongoing concerns about timely payments and setting the blame on Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov for future payment issues.
- The Russian parliament proposed legal measures that would allow Russian authorities to minimize the domestic impacts of partial mobilization in potential future mobilization waves.
- Russian military officials continued to forcibly mobilize Ukrainian residents of Russian-occupied territories to labor or fight on behalf of the Russian military.
And on Ukraine's northern border, the concentration of Russian troops in its client state of Belarus seems to be increasing. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, reiterated what he previously told The War Zone that "we don't currently have any indications of a potential, imminent military action on that front, but we will keep a close eye on it."
A Belarus military official bizarrely warned that Poland, which has proven a huge ally to Ukraine, is preparing for war against it.
Polish Col. Paweł Marzeda, the Assistant Defense and Air Attache to the Embassy of Poland in Washington D.C., dismissed that suggestion, telling The War Zone in an email that those statements are "Belarusian propaganda! Poland never attacked its neighbors and will not!"
On the 239th day of his all-out war on Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited a military training base in Ryazan, about 100 miles southeast of Moscow, where he met with mobilized troops gearing up for the western front.
Dressed in a black jacket, he inspected kit, chatted with soldiers then donned ear protection and laid supine on the ground to fire several shots from a rifle.
In a conversation with recruits, Putin asked if they had any problems at home with places to live or any financial issues. The answers were not surprising.
"No," they responded.
It was believed to be the first time Putin visited a military base since Feb. 24, when he launched his full-on invasion of Ukraine, according to the Washington Post's Russia correspondent Mary Ilyushina.
While Putin tries to fill his ranks with mobilized reservists, Ukraine is sending about 5,000 of its troops to Germany for training. It is part of a wider effort to train about 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
Obtaining war materiel to keep Russia's fight going has been a huge challenge, one that seems to be in part addressed by common theft. In this case of traffic cameras formally embedded in steel casings that were apparently purloined from Sweden and sent to Russia for use in its drones, according to Sweden's Aftonbladet newspaper.
Throughout the course of the war, both sides have been flying very low to avoid air defenses. But there's low, and then there's this.
Though Russia has been attacking Ukrainian positions in the Donestk town of Bakhmut for a while, they have yet to take it over, a mission that is largely in the hands of the Wagner Group, a collection of mercenaries used by Russia in Ukraine, Africa and elsewhere.
Those Wagner forces, however, seem to be impressed by Ukrainian kit.
And the battlefields remain filled with the mangled carcasses of the weapons of war.
Some of the damage inflicted on Russian weapons seems lucky to the extreme, like in the case of Dmytro Shumskyi, praised by Zelensky for shooting down not one, but two Russian cruise missiles with a Stinger man-portable anti-aircraft system.
There has been a great human toll as well. Ukrainian women recently released in a prisoner exchange with Russia complain of being constantly beaten, bullied and threatened.
Russia continues to inflict damage on the battlefield as well, increasingly with its Lancet-3 loitering munition, seen here destroying an array of Ukrainian vehicles.
And Ukraine's advances in the Kherson Oblast counteroffensive have come with a high cost, in terms of troops and equipment.
We will continue to update this story until we state otherwise.
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