On Tuesday, Moscow and Kyiv immediately blamed each other for the dam collapse. Moscow said Ukraine struck the dam and a nearby hydroelectric plant in a barrage of missiles in order to cut off the water supply of Russian-occupied Crimea. Kyiv said Russian agents blew the dam and power plant “from inside,” violating the Geneva Convention.
A similar scene played out in September when explosives punctured three gaping holes in Nord Stream pipelines 1 and 2 lying at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Moscow blamed Kyiv, and vice versa, but no clear-cut evidence was available to support either claim. Instead, the event set off an international investigation led by Germany, Sweden, and Denmark into one of the most significant attacks on civilian infrastructure since World War II.
Initial suspicions from European officials focused on Russia. Some posited that Russia may have blown the pipelines to intimidate Europe and show off Moscow’s capabilities at hitting critical infrastructure, though that meant losing major leverage and control of Europe’s energy supply. Beyond conjecture, not much evidence has surfaced to support pinning the blame on Russia.
Other theories suggested that Ukraine or the United States could be to blame. Recordings surfaced of President Joe Biden earlier pledging to “bring an end” to Nord Stream 2 should Russia invade Ukraine. Biden’s comments echoed the United States’ longstanding opposition to the pipeline, believing that Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas was a national security threat that gave Russian President Vladimir Putin too much leverage over the continent.
In February, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, who has faced scrutiny over his journalistic methods and dubious claims made in his past work, published an article on Substack alleging that the United States orchestrated the destruction of the pipelines. The story received quick and unambiguous denials from all implicated, but it set off renewed speculation that the U.S. may have had a role in blowing up Nord Stream.
Ukraine, largely dismissed as a suspect early on, received new scrutiny this week after leaked classified documents suggested that Ukraine’s military leadership was plotting to destroy the pipeline months before it was blown. The CIA learned about the plot in June 2022, and the details of the plan bear striking resemblances to what investigators suspect may have taken place.
For instance, the Ukrainian plan was to be carried out by a group of special operatives using fake names. German investigators found that a group of six men using fake passports rented a yacht and sailed into the Baltic Sea before Nord Stream was blown.
A similar cycle has taken over the Kakhovka dam failure. Putin has called the dam’s destruction a “barbaric action” that caused a “large-scale environmental and humanitarian catastrophe.” Strong denunciations from an autocrat with a history of brutality mean little to Western officials who are pointing the finger back at him.
“The destruction of the Kakhovka dam today put thousands of civilians at risk and causes severe environmental damage,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “This is an outrageous act, which demonstrates — once again — the brutality of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
Ukraine has largely escaped scrutiny from the West, though some are pointing out that Ukraine is far from being cleared. Tucker Carlson, who is negotiating his exit from Fox News, released the first episode of his new show Wednesday on Twitter, focusing on the dam’s failure and Ukraine’s interest in seeing it fall.
“Blowing up the dam may be bad for Ukraine, but it hurts Russia more. And for that reason, the Ukrainian government has considered destroying it,” Carlson said. Last year, as the two sides were fighting for control of Kherson on the Dnieper River downstream from the dam, Ukraine considered blowing the dam to flood the river and disrupt Russian supply lines. The plan was never carried out, but also never taken off the table. It was kept as a “last resort,” according to The Washington Post.
The dam’s destruction flooded communities downriver, forcing Ukrainian and Russian emergency response teams to evacuate thousands of civilians from Kherson and the surrounding area. The depleted Kakhovka reservoir and offline hydropower plant supplied water and energy for millions of people in southern Ukraine and Russian-controlled Crimea. The reservoir also supplied water to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, now forced to rely on an artificial lake that is expected to run dry in a few months.
“When the facts start coming in, it becomes much less of a mystery what might have happened to the dam. Any fair person would conclude that the Ukrainians probably blew it up, just as you would assume they blew up Nord Stream. … In fact, the Ukrainians did do that, as we now know,” Carlson said.