by Raffaele Crocco

67 weeks have passed since the Russian invasion. Ukraine is once again the victim of devastation, with both sides blaming each other. We know what happened: the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam, about 50 km as the crow flies from Kherson on the Dnipro, broke on the night of 6 June. It literally collapsed. The flooding was immediate and massive, both on the right side of the river, still controlled by the Ukrainians, and on the left side, controlled by the Russians. The floods were devastating. More than 40,000 people have been evacuated, newly displaced in a war that has already created millions of refugees. Thousands of animals are in danger of dying, crops have been lost and a huge black slick is heading for the Black Sea. There is also the danger of too many mines dug up from the mud, now everywhere, ready to kill.

A disaster that has alarmed UN agencies and led the parties to trade accusations. For the Russians, the Ukrainian attacks are to blame for the collapse. On the other hand, Kyiv immediately accused Moscow of using its usual strategy of destruction, this time to slow down – before it starts – the counter-offensive to regain the territories occupied by the Russian army since February 2022. In between are the international observers, who are extremely cautious: the explosion was most likely inside the plant, they say, probably caused by an accident.

It’s hard to know the truth at the moment. The accusations are intertwined with the fighting. Kyiv is said to have launched a major offensive in Donetsk, one of the areas conquered and annexed by Moscow after the invasion. An annexation, it should be remembered, that only a small part of the international community recognises.  Commenting on the Ukrainian military initiative, the Russian Ministry of Defence sent a message on Telegram saying: ‘Russian forces foiled a major Ukrainian military operation in the southern Donetsk region, killing hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers.” Six mechanised battalions and two armoured battalions were said to have been deployed, the exact number of forces having been announced for weeks. The message goes on to be more precise: ‘The enemy did not achieve its objectives, thanks to the regrouping of troops in the east. The losses of the Ukrainian armed forces amount to more than 250 men, 16 tanks, three infantry fighting vehicles, 21 armoured fighting vehicles’.

A precise list, but one that leaves doubt as to the real content of the news, which was not spread by chance via a social channel. The denial came from Kyiv. “Our counter-offensive”, said President Zelensky, “has not yet been launched”. In the meantime, he has officially asked Germany to send Taurus cruise missiles. They can be launched from aircraft and hit targets 500 kilometres away. They are the weapon Kyiv wants to strike far from the front line. It is a hypothesis that frightens many analysts.

The idea that Ukraine could start striking targets on Russian territory is frightening. It could raise the level of confrontation even further. Moscow already seems extremely nervous about the ‘infiltration of Ukrainian saboteurs’ into Belgorod province, as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted. Nine settlements have already been evacuated due to fighting between Russian troops and infiltrated groups. According to the Ukrainian government, these are Russian patriots rebelling against Putin.  “The situation in the Belgorod region is a predictable internal Russian crisis that was brewing even before Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine,” argues Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar.

This Ukrainian theory has not been confirmed, while attempts at international negotiations seem to be going nowhere. The Vatican mission led by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, to visit Kyiv has come to a halt. “We need to reflect and talk to the Pope once he has recovered,” the cardinal explained.  The Vatican’s diplomatic mission has been appreciated by Putin, who has also welcomed and listened to peace proposals from some African leaders. But the war continues.