(Bloomberg) -- Germany blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the destruction of the Kakhova dam in Ukraine, and was joined by other European NATO members in denouncing it as a “war crime.”
The statements added to rising outcry over the biggest man-made disaster in Europe in decades as Ukraine said it was mounting rescue efforts for tens of thousands of people affected by the floodwaters unleashed by the demolition of the dam on Tuesday.
“This is a crystal clear war crime,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to Mumbai. “This is an unbelievable act of violence and destruction which I thought even Putin would not be capable of.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also directly blamed Russia for the suspected attack, saying Moscow destroyed the dam to stop Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive aimed at taking back territory from Putin’s invading forces. He said the incident was just the latest of “the many, many crimes which we have seen in Ukraine and which were committed by Russian soldiers.”
Other allies, including the US, are still assessing who is responsible, but they’re leaning toward Russia, a Western official said on Tuesday. Analysts say Moscow stood to benefit most militarily because the flooding would swamp a potential avenue for attack by Ukrainian troops, making it impassible.
The Kremlin denied responsibility and said Ukraine was behind the breach at the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, which held back a reservoir that provided water to the cooling systems of one of Europe’s largest nuclear power stations, as well as irrigation for farms in Ukraine’s south.
Putin ordered his emergency situations minister to organize work to help people and eliminate consequences of the disaster, the Interfax news service reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He blamed the catastrophe on “sabotage from the Kyiv regime.”
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said British military and intelligence teams were working to establish who was responsible.
He refused to preempt the results of that process but added “what I can say is that what we’ve seen from Russia throughout this war is, on multiple occasions, deliberate acts of aggression against civilian infrastructure.”
“I think it’s abhorrent, and if indeed this attack does turn out to be intentional, it will represent a new low in the form of Russian barbarism,” he told TalkTV during a trip to Washington. “It’s causing enormous suffering to the Ukrainian people.”
(Updates with Sunak comment starting in penultimate paragraph. A previous version of this story was corrected to remove a stray “Ukraine” from the headline.)
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