A Ukrainian soldier fires a rocket launcher during a military exercise near the front line in the Donetsk region on June 8, 2023.

Anatoly Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

The collapse of a strategically important dam in Russian-occupied Ukraine raises questions about Kiev’s ability to launch a long-awaited counteroffensive, but analysts say the resulting bloodshed is unlikely to deter the next phase of the war.

The Nova Kakhovka Dam, located on the Dnieper River, was blown up on Tuesday. Since then, there has been a breach wrought confusion in the territory of southern Ukraine, where tens of thousands of people fled when entire cities were turned into ruins due to a cascading flood.

Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the dam, while the Kremlin denied the attack, saying Kiev had deliberately sabotaged the dam to divert attention from its counter-offensive. CNBC was unable to independently verify the claims.

The dam break comes in the middle months of building to Ukraine’s counteroffensive, a phase of the war that many see as potentially pivotal in Kiev’s pursuit of victory.

NBC news reported On Thursday, Ukraine finally launched a counteroffensive, citing a senior officer and soldier near the front line. The report said a wave of Ukrainian attacks on the war’s southeastern front lines appeared to reflect significant new pressure.

However, a spokesman for the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on Friday rejected reports of the launch of a counter-offensive. according to Reuters. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly stated that the launch of the counter-offensive will not be publicly announced.

Andrius Tursa, CEE adviser at Teneo, a political risk consultancy, said the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam may change Ukraine’s offensive plans – but is “unlikely to derail them”.

In a note published on Thursday, Tursa said Ukraine’s intensification and offensive actions could signal the start of a wider campaign, but it was likely to be “gradual and cautious”.

“The Ukrainian offensive has long been expected to focus on liberating the southeastern regions of the country, which could sever Russia’s ‘land bridge’ to Crimea, split the occupying forces and pose new risks to Russian military assets on the peninsula,” Tursa said.

“While this likely remains one of the goals, Ukraine is also under increasing political pressure to demonstrate that Western military equipment and training has enabled it to deal major blows to Russian forces and retake significant swaths of occupied territory, regardless of where they are located.”

Volunteers set sail in boats during the evacuation of a flooded area in Kherson on June 8, 2023, following damage to the Kakhovka hydropower dam.

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

If Russia is behind the destruction of the dam, then the Russian president approved it Vladimir Putin and the military leadership, Tursa said, “this shows a lack of confidence in their ability to defend the entire front line with conventional means.”

What’s more, the dam collapse sends a message to the international community that Moscow is ready to continue using “asymmetric, escalating and highly destructive methods of defense, even if it harms Russian interests as well,” Tursa added.

Consequences of the rupture of the Nova Kakhovka dam

Ukraine has long warned that the Nova Kakhovka dam is a Russian target. Kyiv expressed concern in November that the dam could be destroyed by retreating Russian forces from the right bank of the Dnieper River in the Kherson region.

Ian Bremmer, founder and president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, also said he did not expect the destruction of the dam to have a major impact on Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

“This is not a ‘land bridge’ [to Crimea] is the easiest to break, so it’s probably not an impact,” Bremmer said on Twitter on Wednesday, stressing the importance of waiting for evidence of who was behind the dam collapse.

Russian forces and occupation authorities have since tried to worsen the humanitarian consequences of flooding from Tuesday’s dam breach, they say analysis from the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.

This includes Russian forces hiding among civilians trying to evacuate from flooded settlements on the east bank of the Dnieper River, according to the think tank, and reportedly shelling a flooded evacuation site in Kherson City, killing one civilian and injuring several others.

Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko, meanwhile, said floodwaters released after the dam burst would “definitely” make a counteroffensive in the area more difficult.

“We’re still several hundred miles from the front line [are places] to attack, but it will be more difficult in this exact place. I’m not a soldier, so I can’t use the word impossible. I don’t know, but definitely a lot harder,” Goncharenko said in an interview with the UK on Wednesday Channel 4 news.

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