A weekend of Ukrainian military successes is worth celebrating, but Russian losses can yield extreme retaliatory measures, as already evidenced in a blackout affecting nine million. Will we be ready if they worsen?
Over the weekend, Ukrainian forces made huge gains in a counterattack that ousted Russian forces from a sizable portion of the Kharkiv region, in some places going as far as the Russian border, and reclaiming key supply depots like Izyum and Kupiansk. Tracts of this territory had been in Russian control since the invasion began on February 24. Ukrainian advances continue, thanks in part to stark differences in military complements and readiness, even as the Kremlin maintains its commitment to achieving initial wartime goals.
But Russia’s first on-the-ground reaction to this loss bodes poorly. This weekend, Eastern Ukraine suffered a massive blackout that affected nine million people, as Ukrainian officials claim water facilities and a thermal power station were hit in an express attack on civilians. With Russia still in control of around a fifth of Ukraine, no swift end in sight, and the rest of Europe already struggling amid Russia’s weaponization of continental energy systems, this latest string of Russian losses presents a serious test of how far retaliation might go.
In one kernel of good news, Energoatom announced yesterday that they were powering down Reactor No. 6 in the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, located in Russian-occupied Ukraine and a site of considerable concern. However, at this lower operational mode, the plant is still vulnerable to nuclear incident if ever disconnected from the power grid, which sustains vital cooling systems for the facility. Energoatom has called for the creation of a demilitarized zone around the plant, and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency has suggested similar.
What remains to be seen is how Putin will react to a continued run of Ukrainian successes. With no sign from the Kremlin of any interest in modifying objectives or seeking peace, the rest of Europe, along with our broader international alliances, needs to prepare for the possibility of more extreme retaliatory measures. Thus far, other nations have been able to avoid providing much more than sanctions to Russia and supplies to Ukraine. Will this continue to be enough?