Zelenskyy says Russia wired a hydroelectric dam to explode and flood 80 towns in region it may have to abandon
- Ukraine accused Russia of planting mines along a key hydroelectric dam.
- Zelenskyy said Russia may blast the dam and cause a great flood it would seek to blame Ukraine for.
- Downstream from the dam is the occupied Kherson region, where Ukraine has made steady advances.
Russia has mined a major Ukrainian hydroelectric dam and is ready to flood dozens of towns in an attack it would blame on Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed on Thursday.
Zelenskyy made the remarks in a meeting with the European Council on Thursday evening local time, saying that "Russia is deliberately creating the grounds for a large-scale disaster in the south of Ukraine."
Zelenskyy said he has received information that mines were placed at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. Insider was unable to immediately verify the claim.
The dam generates energy from the huge Dnipro river, which is around two miles wide just upstream from the dam.
It sits in the Kherson region, where occupying Russian soldiers are under heavy pressure from a Ukrainian counterattack.
"If Russian terrorists blow up this dam, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, will be in the zone of rapid flooding," Zelenskyy said. "Hundreds, hundreds of thousands of people may be affected."
"Russia is doing this in order to organize another false flag operation," Zelenskyy claimed, asserting that Russia would seek to blame a collapse on Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said the loss of the dam could flood a huge area and deprive the south of Ukraine of its water supply. It could also endanger the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which draws on the reservoir at nearby Kakhovka for cooling, he said. Nuclear experts said while this situation would be problematic and pose a risk, its impact likely wouldn't be immediate.
"There's definitely a danger there — it wouldn't necessarily lead to an immediate disaster, but it would just be another massive problem for trying to keep that plant stable," Edwin Lyman, the director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Insider.
"I do want to stress that the [Zaporizhzhia] plants have been powered down, or running at very low power for some time, which is a good thing when considering the potential loss of cooling. Every day that goes by allows the fuel to cool even more, limiting the potential scope of damage," Kathryn Higley, a professor at Oregon State University's school of nuclear science and engineering told Insider in an email.
Calling on EU member states to act, he said that Russia has "complete control over the station."
Interior Ministry advisor Anton Gerashchenko shared part of Zelenskyy's speech on Twitter on Thursday:
—Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) October 20, 2022
Zelenskyy's warning chimes with an assessment put out by the US think tank the Institute for the Study of War, which said on Wednesday that Russia was likely preparing a false flag attack on the dam.
As of Friday, the think tank had no information confirming whether mines had actually been placed, however.
Russia has been signaling its claimed belief that Ukraine will launch an attack for several days. The head of the Russian-installed Kherson government, Kirill Stremousov, made the claim on October 14, as state news outlet TASS reported.
Pro-Russian Telegram accounts have also shared the claim, along with maps showing the potential effect of flooding in the region. The ISW described these efforts as part of Russia setting the "information conditions" to make a false flag attack. The US government considers false-flag attacks a hallmark of Russian warfare.
Russian forces, which overtook much of the region early in the invasion, have been grappling with a slow but determined counteroffensive launched by Ukraine in August. Russia began to evacuate the strategic city of Kherson itself on Wednesday.
In the ISW prediction, flooding resulting from the explosion of the dam would be used by Russia to cover any retreat by its forces eastwards, and would also provide a distraction from its losses.
Damage to the dam could also affect the water supply in Russian-controlled Crimea, TASS reported, citing Vladimir Leontyev, an official in occupied Kakhovka. Crimea depends on a major canal stemming from the Dnipro for its water.
An attack on the plant would further Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine's energy infrastructure. As part of successive recent bombardments, Russia has destroyed around 30% of Ukraine's power stations, Zelenskyy said on Tuesday.