Ukraine update: Zelenskyy warns threat to Kakhovka dam, U.S. says Iran forces on ground in Ukraine

Ukraine update: Zelenskyy warns threat to Kakhovka dam, U.S. says Iran forces on ground in Ukraine

For the past three days, the big story out of Ukraine has been about Russia getting out of Ukraine—or at least, out of a key part of it. The area of Kherson Oblast west of the Dnipro River has been a key location for Russia since the start of the invasion. Now it seems they may be leaving that entire area, which would include the only regional capital Russia has managed to capture during the invasion. It’s news worth celebrating, except for hints that Russia may be trying to cause as much damage as possible on the way out.

In an appearance on Thursday evening in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia has mined the massive dam at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. If the dam is destroyed, the 18 million cubic feet of water behind that dam could flood over 80 settlements, including large parts of the city of Kherson.

Other sources have noted that the destruction of the dam would also significantly drop the water levels on the reservoir behind the dam, generating consequences far upstream. This could extend northeast to the city of Zaporizhzhia. Lowered water levels could threaten the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant at Enerhodar, as well as limit the ability to operate the plant for years to come.

Throughout the war, Russia has warned that Ukraine and other parts of Europe would be starved for heating and electricity if the supply of Russian natural gas was shut down. However, that has proven not to be the case. Over recent weeks, the price of natural gas in Europe has continued to drop, falling below $120 this week from peak prices that exceeded $300. But Russia has continued to claim that without Russian gas, Europe’s energy and economy are doomed. This has become a central theme on Russia’s state-operated television channels.

Within Ukraine, Russia has been regularly attacking electrical generation facilities, as well as striking switching stations and major transmission lines. Electricity is now being rationed in Kyiv and in other parts of Ukraine. The destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant and forced long-term idling of the plant at Enerhodar would put further stress on the electrical supply in Ukraine, and help to prevent an earlier plan in which Ukraine was going to export electricity to neighboring countries. The potential crippling of the nuclear plant might also provide a reason for why Russian forces were reportedly leaving the area on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon briefing at the Pentagon, press secretary and Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder gave a no-nonsense assessment that Iran is not just helping Russia by suppling them with drones, but that Iranian forces have been on the ground in Ukraine to help support drone operations. In terms of what that means, Ryder said that Iran was “complicit in exporting terror.” However, he seemed to stop short (for now) in officially naming Iran as a combatant in the war.

.@PentagonPresSec: “We do assess that Iranians have been on the ground in Ukraine to assist Russia with the drone operations there…We continue to see Iran be complicit in terms of exporting terror.”

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 20, 2022

White House NSC coordinator John Kirby put it even more directly, saying, “Iran is now directly engaged on the ground.” Which definitely gives the impression that not only are those Iranian troops a legitimate target, but Iran itself may be subject to additional sanctions and restrictions.

Earlier in the day a Washington Post report indicated that U.S. specialists have viewed the remains of drones recovered after attacks in Ukraine. At this point, Ukraine claims to have shot down over 200 of the Iranian drones, but Russia may have purchased as many as 2,400 and many of these drones are still obviously causing extreme damage. While the U.S. has supplied Ukraine with their own “kamikaze drones,” such as the Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600, these drones are small and have a limited range. The Iranian-made Shahed-136 is much larger and capable of a much longer flight. That makes these drones easier to shoot down, but it also makes them a threat to civilian targets.

Russia managed to take the city of Kherson on the first day of March after traitorous local officials assisted in directing Ukrainian defenders away from the Antonovskiy Bridge while leaving that bridge intact for Russia to cross. Following that crossing, Russia occupied over 10,000 square kilometers on the west side of the Dnipro, at times threatening the cities of Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih. However, Ukrainian forces soon pushed back, keeping Russian forces confined to an area where they could be readily supplied across the bridge at Kherson and another bridge that crosses the top of a dam west of Nova Kakhovka. 

At the end of May, Ukraine began a series of attacks using HIMARS or other precision weapons to damage and disable the bridges at Kherson and Nova Kakhovka. This forced Russia to begin supplying their forces on the west bank of the Dnipro using barges or ferries. On multiple occasions, Ukraine targeted the locations where vehicles were gathered to get onboard these ferries. Ukrainian forces also took out a series of ammunition and equipment depots in the area of Nova Kokhovka, further limiting the materiel available to forces in Kherson. When an explosion heavily damaged the Kerch Bridge connecting Crimea and Russia in the first week of October, it seriously affected Russia’s ability to supply its whole southern war effort.

Also in early October, Ukraine massed forces along the northern edge of Russian-occupied territory in western Kherson and rapidly broke through Russian front lines. In just three days, the front lines were shifted 30 kilometers to the south. Ukraine liberated over 1,600 square kilometers in this single push, and left Russian forces fighting to maintain a new frontline that stretched from near the town of Davydiv Brid in the west to the town of Mylove along the bank of the Dnipro. 

Now Russia is reportedly trying to relocate as many as 60,000 people out of the Kherson region, which allows them to hide collaborators and Russian officials among innocent Ukrainians, making their passage across the Dnipro River safe from Ukrainian attack. Many of the Ukrainians removed from the area are likely to face the same fate as those from Mariupol and other areas occupied by Russian—deportation after consignment to a “filtration camp,” followed by a very uncertain fate in Russia.

Following the Ukrainian advance in early October, Russia reportedly concentrated as many as 45 Battalion Tactical Groups west of the Dnipro to prevent Ukrainian troops from advancing to control the two bridges. How many of those forces remain inside Kherson isn’t known. At some long-fought-over “hard points,” like the town of Snihurivka, Ukrainian forces continue to report a large number of Russian troops and a large exchange artillery fire.

At the far end of the line, there were reports on Thursday that some Russian forces had been withdrawn from Svatove. However, there don’t seem to be any new reports of settlements in that area changing hands, and these forces may have been positioned somewhere else in the immediate area.

Modern russian army, 80% losses, friendly fire so much that they dont call in fire support anymore, no gathering of KIAs/!!WIAs since 8th of September

— Sven-Erik Volberg (@poliitikasse) October 20, 2022

What’s going on here, I have no idea. Some of it appears to be air defense, but I don’t know defense against what or what the targets might be.

⚡️#Kherson telegram channels publish videos with sounds of explosions in the city.

— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) October 20, 2022

Maybe it’s related to this:

ANTONOVSKY BRIDGE 🧵 /34 Weather forecast: precipitations in the form of missiles. Take care of your barges.

— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) October 20, 2022

UPDATE: Friday, Oct 21, 2022 · 1:07:41 AM +00:00

Mark Sumner

On all of these reports, keep a shaker of salt handy. We’ve seen enough evidence to know that Russia really is shifting some forces from Kherson, but until Ukrainian troops are marching into the city, assume this could all be a deception. 

The 205th Seperate Motorized Rifle Brigade fighting in #Khersion region reports that they have been given the order to retreat from #Kherson to the left bank of the Dnipr. Still unconfirmed (!)

— NOËL 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) October 20, 2022

UPDATE: Friday, Oct 21, 2022 · 12:59:44 AM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Everyone who guessed that explosions were the pontoon bridge saying bye, got it right. 

Slow-mo of one of the impacts at Antonovsky bridge a bit earlier. Barges? We don’t need any barges. We don’t need no stinking barges! #Kherson 🇺🇦 #HIMARStime 🚀

— M|§F|T 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@am_misfit) October 20, 2022

UPDATE: Thursday, Oct 20, 2022 · 10:16:18 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

The Russians go hunting for their most valuable treasure. The washing machine.

— ТРУХА⚡️English (@TpyxaNews) October 20, 2022

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