Trudy Rubin: After Ukraine Dam Disaster, NATO Must Make Putin Pay for His War Crimes

When Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, addressed a special session of the Security Council on Tuesday about the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, he confronted his Russian counterpart as “the representative of Putin’s terrorist regime … who detonated a bomb mass destruction of the environment”.

That says it all.

Who can doubt that Moscow has unleashed the biggest man-made disaster in Europe since the Chernobyl nuclear crisis of 1986? But Chernobyl—another Russian desecration of Ukrainian soil—was caused by Soviet incompetence. This massive ecological crime was deliberate.

By destroying the dam, Vladimir Putin wanted to prevent Ukraine’s counteroffensive to drive Russia out of occupied Ukrainian territory, a critical action that has just begun.

It must not be allowed to succeed.

Ukrainian forces will no longer be able to cross the now flooded Dnipro River with armored vehicles in the coming weeks (although this approach was unlikely) as the ground on both banks has been turned into rivers and wet scrapes.

The Ukrainian government’s attention and the focus of its allies will be taken over by a massive rescue operation and the resettlement of more refugees, lessening the emphasis on the military front.

No doubt Russia also hopes that the prospect of enormous economic and environmental damage from the dam’s collapse will undermine Ukrainian morale – and weaken the will of its supporters.

NATO allies must immediately clarify that this is not the case.

Don’t take a rocket scientist

Yes, it appears that the US continues to analyze the information to clearly determine whether Russia is to blame for the destruction of the dam.

However, it doesn’t take a missile specialist to see that the Russians have been in full control of the dam and the entire hydroelectric facility for more than a year. As Kyslytsya noted: “It is physically impossible to somehow blow it up from the outside by bombing. It was mined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up.” Experts also believe that the explosion must have come from within.

Late last year, the Kremlin was testing the international appetite to swallow its lies if Russia were to destroy the dam. At the United Nations in October, Russia falsely claimed that Ukraine was about to blow up the structure and blamed Moscow.

In October, Russia hesitated. But now, fearing a Ukrainian counteroffensive, officials in Moscow have done what they had previously threatened, although they are trying to cover it up with propaganda.

Blame the victim

This is the Kremlin’s common modus operandi: blame the victim for your crimes. Just as they claimed Ukraine destroyed Mariupol or left corpses strewn on the streets of Bucha. Just as they claim they never target civilians, when they have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure.

As they still claim their invasion is a “special military operation” to eliminate “Ukrainian Nazis”.

Russian propaganda turns reality upside down. For a reality check, just listen to the “experts” on state-controlled Russian television shows. You will hear Nazi-like genocidal propaganda as they rejoice in the destruction of the dam.

One such “expert”, Alexey Anpilogov, has been calling for Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s dams for months, insisting in September 2022 that: “Our victory depends on how quickly we can destroy their critical infrastructure…power plants , the dams, the railways.” Now he blames Ukraine for the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.

Thanks to journalist Julia Davis, who posts and translates clips of those talk shows on Twitter at @JuliaDavisNews, anyone with a strong stomach can listen to the vitriol. One of her most recent: State Duma member Alexei Zhuravlyov discussing how the dam’s demise benefited Russia. (He smiled knowingly, even as he accused Ukraine of murder.)

“There are no problems for our army there,” Zhuravlyov explained frankly. “Now it is impossible for (Ukrainians) to cross the (flooding Nipro River).” He then compared Ukrainians to cockroaches that must be “crushed” and proposed that Ukrainian land be distributed to the “heroes” of Russian soldiers.

Listen to this slime and understand the depth of Moscow’s visceral desire to destroy a Ukraine that will not bow to imperial rule.

On D-Day

It was especially bad that this war crime took place on June 6, the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that marked the beginning of the fall of Nazi Germany. No doubt Putin took a perverse pleasure in twisting this historic day into his ugly narrative that Ukrainians are Nazis. The destroyed dam shows, once again, that Russia is now playing that genocidal role.

So it is critical that the United States quickly gathers and declassifies information that points the finger directly at the Russian perpetrator – and presents it to the UN Security Council. Moscow must not be allowed to shift responsibility for this war crime – the lasting ecological damage of which will affect Europe as well.

It is also essential that NATO countries explain to Moscow that if any similar disaster occurs at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, upstream of the dam and also occupied by Russia, the blame will be placed on the Kremlin.

UN and Ukrainian experts say the dam collapse does not pose an immediate threat to the plant’s safety, but will have a long-term impact. The Russians have frequently issued threats about the plant, even as they have militarized it and refused UN requests to turn it into a demilitarized zone.

Most importantly, the West must compensate for Russia’s ecological bomb, not only with immediate aid to deal with the calamity, but also with the specific military systems Ukraine needs to succeed in the counteroffensive. More air defenses, long-range missiles, F-16s, whatever it takes to show that Putin’s war crimes will not go unpunished.

And finally, July’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Estonia, must provide Ukraine with a path into the coalition and security guarantees until that happens.

Putin’s latest war crime has shown why, for the safety of Europe and our country, Russia’s villainous president cannot be allowed to succeed.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101. Her email address is

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