Ukraine is about to recapture Cherson. But Putin’s withdrawal could also be a trap. It is feared that Russian troops could blow up the nearby dam. Or is the Kremlin ruler planning something even worse?

The DniproHES near Zaporizhia is the largest hydroelectric power station in Ukraine. When it opened in 1932, it was the third largest hydroelectric power station in the world after the US power stations at Hoover and Wilson Dam.

On September 18, 1941, Stalin’s troops, retreating from the Wehrmacht, blew a 200-meter-long hole in the Wall. The scale of the catastrophe was gigantic. 35,000 cubic meters of water flooded the area. It is estimated that up to 100,000 civilians died.

Further downstream at Nowa Kakhovka above the city of Cherson is the next hydroelectric power station with an impressive dam. The Kachowkaer reservoir is also known as the “sea” because of its dimensions. It took two years to fill it. Now the next big catastrophe could happen right here.

As the US think tank “Institute for the Study of War” (ISW) reports, Putin is preparing a “false flag operation” here. That means Russia could blow up the dam itself and then blame Ukraine for it in order to discredit it internationally. Hundreds of thousands of people would be affected again.

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Russia this week began large-scale “evacuation” of civilians from the city and area around Kherson. A euphemism. Basically, it is about deportations or kidnappings. The affected Ukrainians may even have to put on Russian uniforms and fight against their own compatriots.

The Russian aggressor uses the narrative that Ukraine is attacking Kherson. In fact, shortly after the start of the war, the southern Ukrainian city of Cherson was taken by Russian troops and placed under forced administration.

Only Russia considers them Russian. In any case, the Ukrainian army is apparently on the verge of recapturing the city. However, the military leadership is no longer issuing any information on the current status.

However, the Russian commander-in-chief in Ukraine, General Sergey Surovikin, hinted in a recent TV interview that the situation was complicated, which independent observers took as an announcement of withdrawal. So open, so honest?

Doubts remain. The question that arose after the appearance of “General Armageddon” was whether it was simply a return to more realism or whether it was deliberate misinformation.

“The Russian forces on the west bank of the Dnieper are in a very difficult situation,” analyzes the Russia and military expert Nico Lange the situation on the ground in an interview with FOCUS online. Until last year, Lange worked in the management staff of the Federal Ministry of Defense.

The troops can no longer be supplied. In order to save them, it now makes military sense to withdraw them. “At the same time, the Russian leadership, right up to Putin himself, has always attached great importance to Kherson, the only Ukrainian regional capital that has been conquered so far, remaining in Russian hands.”

You can’t actually hold the city militarily anymore, but you still pretend to be strong. That’s why the Russian side is now saying: If we can’t hold the area, we’ll destroy it.

“This is a blind rage for destruction that is breaking new ground here,” emphasizes Lange. It results from the admission that military steps are being taken backwards. “In short: If Russia has to give up Cherson, it is to be feared that this will not happen without destruction.”

A fear shared by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He warned of a possible explosion of the Kachowka hydroelectric power plant. “Russia is deliberately creating the basis for a large-scale disaster in southern Ukraine,” said the head of state in a video address at the EU summit on Thursday evening. A blast would cause massive flooding.

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“Russia is very good at voicing outrageous things in order to exert pressure,” military expert Lange clarifies. Above all, he sees the West, especially Germany, as addressees. “It’s aimed at our heads and is intended to weaken our support for Ukraine.” Don’t let that intimidate you.

Lange continued: “At the same time, one has to state that the Russians are capable of many things and would do a lot.” It would not stop the defeat in that area, but it would cost a great many civilian casualties. “I think it’s about psychological intimidation.”

In addition to the dam threat, Putin also regularly plays the nuclear card and later adds: “I’m not bluffing!” It is feared that the Kremlin boss could possibly use the withdrawal and deportation of Ukrainians from Cherson to free territory to detonate a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon to demonstrate his resolve.

Nico Lange: “My impression of Putin, who is more of a KGB man than a military man, is that these recurring nuclear threats are aimed at us Germans in particular. Because he knows that he can trigger worries and fears in a very specific way. Militarily, deploying a tactical nuclear weapon in the area would not turn the tide in Russia’s favor.”

Furthermore, according to Lange, the use of such a weapon would cross a line and Putin would have to reckon with a very harsh reaction. “He knows that, so I think such a move is unlikely.”

The Russia expert from the University of Innsbruck, Gerhard Mangott, also considers the probability to be “very low”. “The occasion is not big enough to break the nuclear taboo,” Mangott told FOCUS online.

“With his threats, Putin’s aim is to influence us in Germany in particular so that we help Ukraine less out of fear,” emphasizes Lange. Because one thing is also clear: “After eight months, one has to be clear: Putin has not achieved a single one of his war goals, despite the fact that tens of thousands of soldiers have been sacrificed,” says Lange.

“And because he’s not achieving these goals, he’s now always trying to open new construction sites.” The attacks on infrastructure, incidentally also in Western countries, as well as the rocket attacks and drone attacks in Ukraine are an expression of this.

The military expert points out: “Putin is militarily weak, so he’s trying to make an impression elsewhere.” This will certainly become more acute if Cherson falls back to the Ukrainians. “Especially because Russia has to continue to appear strong to the domestic audience and at least want to maintain the appearance that everything is fine with this ‘special operation’, which it definitely isn’t.”

For the Ukrainians, on the other hand, Lange paints a cautiously optimistic picture: “If Ukraine advances further south, there is a good chance that even Melitopol and eventually Mariupol on the Black Sea could be recaptured.”

In the airspace over the Black Sea, disaster almost struck. A Russian jet shoots down a missile due to a technical defect while “shadowing” a British plane. Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace described the incident as a “potentially dangerous engagement”.

In Cherson, Ukraine is currently conducting a very successful counter-offensive. Desperation is growing among the Russian occupiers. This is proven by an intercepted call from an occupier from the Cherson region, who even wants to swim across the Dnipro to survive.

In the event of a possible withdrawal from Cherson, the Russian army will have to rely on wobbly bridges. Significant power supply restrictions are imminent in Ukraine from Thursday. Citizens are encouraged to save electricity. The Ukraine war in the ticker.