The Korea Herald


[Trudy Rubin] NATO must make Putin pay for war crimes

By Korea Herald

Published : June 13, 2023 - 05:31

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When Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya addressed a special Security Council session on Tuesday about the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, he confronted his Russian counterpart as “the representative of Putin’s terrorist regime ... that has detonated a bomb of mass environmental destruction.”

That says it all.

Who can doubt that it was Moscow that unleashed the largest man-made disaster in Europe since the 1986 nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl? But Chernobyl -- another Russian desecration of Ukrainian soil -- was caused by Soviet incompetence. This massive ecological crime was deliberate.

By destroying the dam, Vladimir Putin meant to impede Ukraine’s counteroffensive to drive Russia out of occupied Ukrainian territory, a critical undertaking which has just gotten started.

He must not be allowed to succeed.

Ukrainian forces will now be unable to cross the flooded Dnipro River with armored vehicles in coming weeks (although this approach had not been likely) since the land on both sides has been turned into rivulets and soggy mush.

Ukrainian governmental attention, and the focus of its allies, will be taken up with a massive rescue operation, and resettling of more refugees, lessening the focus on the military front.

No doubt Russia also hopes the prospect of enormous economic and environmental damage, caused by the dam’s collapse, will undermine Ukrainian morale -- and weaken the will of its supporters.

NATO allies must make immediately clear that this is not the case.

Yes, the US is reportedly still combing the intelligence to clearly determine if Russia is to blame for the dam’s destruction.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, however, to note that the Russians have been in total control of the dam and the entire hydroelectric facility for more than a year.

As Kyslytsya noted, “It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside by shelling. It was mined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up.” Experts also believe the explosion had to come from inside.

Late last year, the Kremlin was testing the international appetite to swallow its lies if Russia destroyed the dam. At the United Nations in October, Russia falsely claimed Ukraine was about to blow up the structure and blame Moscow.

In October, Russia hesitated. But now -- fearful of the Ukrainian counteroffensive -- officials in Moscow have done what they earlier threatened, even though they are trying to obscure the deed with propaganda.

This is the common Kremlin modus operandi: Blame the victim for your crimes. Just as they claimed that it was Ukraine that destroyed Mariupol or left corpses strewn on the streets of Bucha. Just as they claim they never target civilians, when they have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Just as they still claim their invasion is a “special military operation” aimed to eliminate “Ukrainian Nazis.”

Russian propaganda turns reality upside down. For a reality check, you need only to listen to the “experts” on state-controlled Russian television talk shows. You will hear Nazi-like genocidal propaganda as they rejoice over the dam’s destruction.

One such “expert”, Alexey Anpilogov, has been calling for months for Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s dams, insisting, in September 2022, that, “Our victory depends on how fast we can destroy their critical infrastructure ... the power plants, the dams, the railways.” Now he blames Ukraine for destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam.

Thanks to the journalist Julia Davis who posts and translates clips from those talk shows on Twitter, anyone with a strong stomach can listen to the vitriol. One of her latest: State Duma member Alexei Zhuravlyov, discussing how the dam’s demise benefited Russia. (He grinned knowingly even as he accused Ukraine of the crime.)

“There are no problems for our army there,” Zhuravlyov explained frankly. “Now it’s impossible for [the Ukrainians] to get across (the flooding Dnipro River).” Then he compared Ukrainians to roaches who must be “squashed” and proposed that Ukrainian land be distributed to Russia’s soldier “heroes.”

Listen to this slime and you understand the depth of Moscow’s visceral desire to destroy a Ukraine that won’t bow to imperial rule.

It was especially vicious that this war crime occurred on June 6, the 79th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that marked the beginning of Nazi Germany’s downfall. No doubt Putin got perverse pleasure out of twisting this historic day into his ugly narrative claiming Ukrainians are the Nazis. The destroyed dam shows, once again, that it is Russia now playing that genocidal role.

So it is critical that the United States quickly assemble and declassify intelligence that points the finger directly at the Russian perpetrator -- and lay it out at the UN Security Council. Moscow must not be allowed to muddy its responsibility for this war crime -- whose lasting ecological damage will also affect Europe.

It is also crucial that NATO countries make clear to Moscow that if any similar disaster occurs at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, upstream from the dam and also occupied by Russia, the blame will be placed squarely on the Kremlin.

UN and Ukrainian experts say the dam’s collapse does not pose an immediate threat to the plant’s safety but will have a long term impact. The Russians have frequently issued threats about the plant, even as they militarized it and refused UN pleas to turn it into a demilitarized zone.

Most essential, the West must offset Russia’s ecological bomb, not only with immediate aid to address the calamity, but with the specific military systems Ukraine needs to succeed in the counteroffensive. More air defenses, long range missiles, F-16s, everything needed to show that Putin’s war crimes will not go unpunished.

And finally, the July NATO summit in Vilnius, Estonia, must offer Ukraine a path to enter the coalition and security guarantees until that happens.

Putin’s latest war crime has shown why, for the safety of Europe and our own country, Russia’s vile president can’t be allowed to succeed.

Trudy Rubin

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)