The writer is a former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and author of ‘War with Russia’
Verily, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse have descended on Ukraine. With the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam, Russia has apparently added a grotesque act of environmental terrorism to the brutal occupation, the continued loss of a generation of young Ukrainian men and women in battle, the massacre of civilians and the destruction of cities on a scale that in Europe since 1945.
The immediate priority is international humanitarian aid. But so far the response seems to fall under the heading of ‘too difficult’. The flood, which comes in the early stages of Ukraine’s counter-offensive, will be a major distraction at a time when every heart, nerve and sinew is strained to secure a decisive victory. The relief effort will drain resources that Ukraine can hardly afford, not least in light of Russia’s relentless bombing of rescue operations in Kherson.
That said, the flood presents opportunities for Ukraine. Open source reports indicate the destruction of heavy equipment and flooding of Russian defenses and minefields on the eastern bank of the Dnipro. Crimea’s water supply is severely affected, affecting Moscow’s garrison and capabilities there. The flooding will also be a distraction for Russia at a time when it faces multiple probing attacks on several axes along its long front line.
The Ukrainians had probably already ruled out an amphibious assault on the southern Dnipro against well-defended Russian positions on the eastern bank. Kiev retains the initiative, having just launched its offensive with multiple combined arms strikes, including main battle tanks, against Moscow’s troops. It will continue to investigate, identify weaknesses, launch raids and conduct deception operations so that when it concentrates its strength to attack, it does so against Russian weakness.
Ukraine has been quick to accuse Russia of blowing up the dam from within, though Western allies have yet to comment on the cause of the disaster. There is a danger that if the Kremlin is prepared to wreak havoc on such a large scale, it is capable of further escalation: destruction of the Kiev Dam or the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the latter potentially resulting in a catastrophic radioactive leak with widespread environmental consequences. . From here, the detonation of a tactical nuclear device is not unlikely.
The strategic issue, not only for Ukraine’s partners in the west and NATO, but for the global community, is to make Russia feel the consequences. Any acceptance of this humanitarian, economic and environmental atrocity only invites Moscow to go one step further. A red line must be drawn. Ukraine’s partners must take off the gloves and ensure that Kiev has the means to really hurt Russia, for example by targeting the Kerch Bridge or the Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol. It would be a start to follow the British example by supplying more longer-range missiles, such as the US ATACMS, and accelerating the deployment of F-16 fighter jets.
Russia should be suspended from the UN General Assembly, as was South Africa in 1974. As for China and Russia’s tacit supporters in the global south, such as India, South Africa and Brazil, it is time to to recognize that sitting on the fence while war crimes are being committed is tantamount to complicity in the crime.
Moscow recognizes only strength and where it finds weakness it will continue to exploit it. As the head of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence told me and others in Kiev in late April, the only way to influence Russia is to punch it in the face — and then talk. This means that at its Vilnius summit in July, NATO must show real strength and produce more than just another rhetorical endorsement of Ukraine.
Instead, alliance leaders should promote a NATO defense and deterrence stance that underlines NATO’s determination to support Ukraine and initiate the process of Kyiv’s integration into the transatlantic community, including as a member of the alliance. Ukraine’s war goals must be fully endorsed. The provision of military equipment, ammunition, training and support must become an alliance strategy rather than a bilateral agreement between individual NATO members and Ukraine. Above all, next year’s NATO summit in Washington must chart a fast track towards Ukraine’s membership of the alliance.
This war is not only against Ukraine, but also against the West and Ukraine joining the West. Even if Kiev has achieved its military goals (which it can, with the full-blooded support of its allies), Russia will remain an angry, humiliated, traumatized, revanchist state hell-bent on eliminating Ukraine and building a new Russian empire. to build.
The only way to keep Europe war-free for generations is for NATO to build a line of deterrent steel around its eastern border, with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and perhaps one day into Belarus. This means that the alliance must be prepared for the worst case: war with Russia. The long-term consequences will be profound.