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Russian messaging on Kakhovka dam explosion inconsistent, challenging official accusation

Russian messaging on Kakhovka dam explosion inconsistent, challenging official accusation

As waters from the Kakhovka reservoir flood downstream settlements after a night explosion, western media have fallen into the usual “blame game,” reporting that Ukraine and Russia are “trading accusations” for the devastation: Ukraine accuses Russia of detonating the dam on the territory it occupies, while Russia alleges that Ukraine shelled the dam. Ukrainian journalist Kostiantyn Ryzhenko reconstructed the Russian propaganda messaging of the event to reveal a likely Russian military operation to flood Ukrainian troops on the Dnipro islands that went astray.

The Ukrainian presence at the islands of the Dnipro river was repeatedly reported by Russian milblogger Romanov Lite, who claimed that Russia repeatedly thwarted Ukrainian attempts to cross the formidable water obstacle, seen as a challenge for Ukraine’s offensive eastward, and that Ukraine had been present on the islands for two months. Discussions on Romanov’s pro-Kremlin channel refer to the presence of Ukrainians there as a great nuisance, scold leaders for ignoring this problem, and suggest that “a self-detonation” of the dam could be a solution to “smoke” the Ukrainian military out, mentioning that the dam is too strong for an artillery strike.

Here is a summary of Ryzhenko’s post, with supplements.

1. At night, the Russians blew up a part of the dam; as messages and suspicions spread in Telegram, the Russian-appointed quisling of Nova Kakhovka Leontyev denied at 6:06 AM that there was an explosion at the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, calling it nonsense. “He added that all was quiet and calm in the city,” the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti reported. This statement was widely shared by at least 150 Russian medias, TG channels, and social media pages, as per Ukraine’s Strategic Communications center.

2. The Russian OSINT community Rybar supports Leontyev at 6:51, claiming that footage of an explosion shared by Telegram channels dates to a previous episode of Russians damaging the dam in November 2022.

3. Quisling Leontyev changes his rhetoric at 6:51, when, apparently, it became clear that damage to the dam was significant. Despite earlier stating that all was quiet in the city, he starts claiming that the dam was not detonated, but suffered strikes:

“Around 2 a.m. there were a number of numerous strikes on the Kakhovka HPP, which destroyed the gate valves. As a result, water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to be discharged downstream uncontrollably,” Leontyev said.

4. Other Russian propagandist Telegram channels spread inconsistent messaging, contradicting Leontyev by claiming that the dam collapsed because of previous shelling. For instance, Russian propagandist Yuriy Podoliaka at 6:15, or the Russian propaganda “War on fakes” channel at 6:05.

5. The Telegram channel “Operation Z,” which cooperates with Russia’s invading army, reports at 8:25 that as a result of the dam being blown up (by Russia), the Ukrainian army located on the islands downstream of the dam are trying to evacuate and save themselves but are being hit by Russian artillery and strike drones. In general, the Russian milblogger channels started reporting a “Ukrainian strike” around 3 AM.

6. As it became apparent that the destroyed dam was causing an environmental catastrophe, Russian propaganda channels started accusing Ukraine of staging a provocation. For instance, the same “War on fakes” that earlier claimed that the dam collapsed by itself extensive damage from the destroyed dam at 8:33 says that the dam collapsed because of the the “Kyiv regime,” but the Russian-controlled “Novokakhovska pravda” writes at 8:37 that the dam broke because of Ukraine shelling it with an Olkha MLRS.

“Although any sapper will give a hundred percent guarantee that it is impossible to make such destruction from the outside, the damage here was done by planting explosives,” Kostiantyn Ryzhenko writes.

Afterward, Russian propaganda messaging was more consistent, accusing Ukraine of making strikes at the dam; as Ryzhenko phrases it, because they understood it is a great international ecological tragedy.

In summary, Russian officials and milbloggers were inconsistent in their messaging about the events at Nova Kakhovka, which is hard to imagine in case of a supposed Ukrainian strike at the dam.

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