Zelensky accuses Russia of planning false-flag operation at hydroelectric plant

Russian troops guard an entrance of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Station, a run-of-the-river power plant on the Dnieper River in Kherson region, southern Ukraine, May 20, 2022. (AP Photo)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday accused Russia of planning a “large-scale disaster” in southern Ukraine by blowing up a major dam and hydroelectric plant, only to blame the fallout on the Ukrainians.

Speaking to a meeting of the European Council, Zelensky said his country has evidence that Russia has planted mines at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant and could be preparing to blow it up, warning that such an attack could flood the critical city of Kherson and cause cooling issues at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“The dam of this hydroelectric power plant holds about 18 million cubic meters of water,” Zelensky said. “If Russian terrorists blow up this dam, more than 80 settlements, including Kherson, will be in the zone of rapid flooding. Hundreds, hundreds of thousands of people may be affected.”

The hydroelectric plant is located in Russian-controlled territory, and Zelensky told the European leaders that Russia previously kicked out Ukrainian workers from the facility.

“They have complete control over the station,” Zelensky said of the Russians. “It is necessary to act immediately so that Russia does not have the opportunity to realize this catastrophe.”

Ukraine in recent days reclaimed territory in the Kherson Oblast, where the plant is located and one of four regions Russia annexed earlier this month. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared martial law in the regions on Wednesday.

The two militaries are now preparing for a fight over the region’s namesake city, a critical industrial port that remains the largest city Russia controls in Ukraine. 

The Institute for the Study of War similarly assessed on Wednesday that Russian forces were setting up conditions to conduct a false-flag operation, and Moscow has employed similar tactics previously.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader of Kherson, has already suggested without evidence that Ukraine is planning to destroy the dam and plant, telling residents that flooding danger exists in the area.

Meanwhile, Russia has initiated civilian evacuations from the area.

“Saldo’s announcement of a mass withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River is likely intended in part to evacuate Russian occupation officials, collaborators and other occupation organs in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances, but Russian officials are likely also using the facade of humanitarian necessity to deport large populations of Ukrainians to Russia,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote in its daily update on Wednesday.

An attack on the facility could also have repercussions on Ukraine’s electricity supply.

Zelensky told European leaders the Kakhovka Reservoir, which was created by the hydroelectric plant’s construction, supplies water to cool the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest.

The plant, which is located in Russian-controlled territory but operated by Ukrainian employees, has been the subject of concerns for months among international observers. 

Shelling has continued in the area, fueling worries that a misfire could cause a nuclear disaster. The head of the International Energy Atomic Agency has been negotiating with Russia and Ukraine to set up a protection zone around the plant.

Ukrainian officials say Russia is increasingly targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in its recent barrage of missile strikes, already knocking out 30 percent of the country’s power facilities. 

Those strikes have led Ukraine to stop exporting electricity and to ask residents to conserve power use as blackouts become commonplace.

Tags European Council false-flag operation Kakhovka hydroelectric plant russia Russia-Ukraine war ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky Volodymyr Zelensky
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