Ukraine on Sunday appeared to begin a long-expected counteroffensive against Russian forces, and its officials said that Moscow blew the dam to hinder their advance by causing flooding and removing the only remaining river crossing between the enemies. It is not clear, though, whether Ukraine’s plans call for a major crossing of the lower Dnipro.
Ukrainians questioned why they would want to destroy their own infrastructure, towns and farms, while noting that those have been frequent targets in the brutal Russian conduct of the war. Moscow wanted to “show they are ready to do anything” if Kyiv aggressively pursues its counteroffensive, said Roman Kostenko, chairman of the defense and intelligence committee in Ukraine’s Parliament. “They do everything to stop our counterattack.”
Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, claimed that Ukraine had destroyed the dam to cut the flow of water through a canal from the Dnipro to the Crimean Peninsula. After Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine halted the flow, but Russia restarted it last year after taking the dam.
Other Russian officials claimed the attack was meant to support a Ukrainian offensive that they said was sputtering — possibly to allow Kyiv to reposition some forces, or to have floodwaters push back Russian artillery near the river.
Some Western military analysts struck a cautionary note about trying to assign blame quickly, or even about saying whether the dam collapse was intentional.
“It’s too early to tell,” said Michael Kofman, the director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Va. The disaster, he said, “ultimately benefits nobody.”
Reporting was contributed by Riley Mellen, Haley Willis, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Paul Sonne, Andrew E. Kramer, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Eric Schmitt and Victoria Kim.