Who benefits from dam breach in Ukraine?

blue and yellow ukrainian flag waving above crowd of people
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Ukraine’s prosecutor general on Tuesday said 17,000 people were being evacuated from flooded areas after the partial destruction of the Kakhovka dam.

“Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded. Ukrainian authorities are evacuating over 17,000 people,” Andriy Kostin, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, said on social media, adding that 25,000 more people should be evacuated on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.

Which side – if any – stands to benefit?

While Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the dam breach, it is not immediately clear whether either side stands to benefit, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that Ukraine destroyed the dam to prevent potential Russian attacks in the Kherson region and divert attention from the pruported failure of its long-awaited counteroffensive. 

Ukraine, meanwhile, alleges Russia blew up the dam to hinder its planned assault, even though observers note that crossing the broad Dnipro would have been extremely challenging even before the flooding.

Cold War historian Sergey Radchenko said Moscow had most to gain and was thus also the most plausible culprit for the dam’s destruction, noting on Twitter that, “by causing floods downstream of Nova Kakhovka, the Russians would complicate Ukraine’s efforts to cross, winning time, which would allow them to focus on other sections of the front.”

Nigel Gould-Davies, a senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told AP the alleged Russian destruction of the dam “betrays a lack of confidence, a profoundly defensive measure, the lack of confidence in Russia’s longer-term prospects” in the war.

Experts have previously said the dam was in disrepair, which could also have led to the breach. David Helms, a retired American scientist who has monitored the reservoir since the war began, said it wasn’t clear if the damage was deliberate or simple neglect from Russian forces occupying the facility.

But Helms also noted a Russian history of attacking dams.