Damage to Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam, which has led to massive flooding in the Kherson region, could be a potential war crime, EU and Ukraine leaders said on Tuesday.
« The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today puts thousands of civilians at risk and causes serious environmental damage, » said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. She said at a press conference of the Bucharest Nine (B9) summit in Slovakia. « This is an outrageous act, demonstrating – yet again – the brutality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. »
He added that the damage to the dam demonstrated that the war Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed against Ukraine « is totally unacceptable and a blatant violation of international law. »
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he saw the attack as a « new dimension » to the Russian war. While he avoided saying explicitly that Kremlin forces destroyed the dam, he said the attack « fits with the way Putin is waging this war, » in comments made at an event in Berlin.
Scholz said that Russia has suffered « many setbacks » in the course of the war and has « always drawn the conclusion to proceed with even greater aggression against Ukraine ».
The dam’s destruction « joins many, many of the crimes we’ve seen in Ukraine that have been committed by Russian soldiers, » Scholz continued.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has doubled down on her stance, saying Russia is using the dam, which is located in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as a « weapon of war », endangering many lives. « There is only one person responsible for this environmental disaster: Russia’s criminal war of aggression against Ukraine », Baerbock She said.
In a joint statementEU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the bloc’s crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarčič said Russia was « continuing its reckless nuclear gamble » in a « desperate act ».
« It represents a new dimension of Russian atrocities and may constitute a violation of international law, especially international humanitarian law, » the statement read.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called the dam attack ‘a repugnant act’ adding: « Intentionally attacking purely civilian infrastructure is a war crime. »
On Tuesday, Ukrainian officials said Russia bombed the Soviet-era dam, which connects Ukraine’s Dnipro River in part of Kherson region occupied by Russian troops, holding back up to 18 cubic kilometers of water, flooding surrounding villages . The dam also supplies water to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The dam serves as one of three major crossings along the Dnieper.
Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba She said the damage to the dam was « probably Europe’s biggest technological disaster in decades », adding that it could constitute a « heinous war crime ».
Russia has claimed that Ukraine was responsible for the attack, which Kiev denies.
Experts indicate that Moscow has much more to gain from the dam’s destruction as it seeks to slow down Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive.
« Russia has controlled the dam … for more than a year, » said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy She said at vertex B9. “It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside… It was undermined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up. »
Matt Honeycombe-Foster contributed to the reporting.