Ukrainian troops could take advantage of a sharp dip in the Dnieper River’s water levels to cross the current front line at Zaporizhzhia and “start action anywhere” on this southern line of fighting, an official in the Russian-backed administration of the Ukrainian region has said.
Russia needs “to be prepared” for Kyiv’s forces to advance if the surface of the river freezes, as it has done in the past and may likely do again in the coming days, Vladimir Rogov, the head of the pro-Moscow We Stand With Russia movement, said on Monday, according Kremlin-controlled news agency Tass.
Rogov told Russian state TV that Kyiv’s forces had engineered the drop in water levels through the closing of hydraulic locks at various points along the Dnieper River.
He pinpointed the Dnipro Hydroelectric Station in Zaporizhzhia, the Middle Hydroelectric Station to the north of Zaporizhzhia and the Kremenchuk Hydroelectric Power Plant, between the central cities of Dnipro and Cherkasy.
The Zaporizhzhia front line has long been the target of intensive shelling, notably raising alarm bells when explosions have been reported at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, to the south of the city.
Russia occupies the power plant and the southern part of the Zaporizhzhia region while Ukrainian forces control the city of the same name and the northern area of the region.
The Dnieper River, which can be as wide as 10 miles, constitutes a natural obstacle between the two countries’ forces. It follows key battleground cities in the south and east of Ukraine, from the Black Sea city of Kherson up through Zaporizhzhia, and ultimately to Kyiv.
Roman Kostenko, a veteran of the yearslong fight against Russian-directed forces in the Donbas and now a member of Ukraine’s parliament, previously told Newsweek that it was “very hard to cross in any weather,” adding in December 2022 that he “highly” doubted Ukraine would look to press immediately east across the Dnieper River around Kherson, which Ukrainian forces reclaimed in the fall of 2022.
But the Zaporizhzhia region could be a more promising prospect, he continued, and later a platform for pushing southwards down the Dnieper to Kherson.
Manipulating the water levels of the Dnieper River is not an idea unfamiliar to both sides. Major General Andriy Kovalchuk, who was tasked with leading the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson in the fall, confirmed to The Washington Post that he contemplated flooding the river as Kyiv’s forces retook the key Black Sea city.
In November 2022, Ukrainian troops reclaimed the city of Kherson and pushed back Russian forces to the east bank of the Dnieper River. But Moscow’s retreat to the opposing bank provided the Kremlin’s troops with a natural defensive barrier in the Dnieper.
Mike Martin, of the War Studies Department at King’s College London, suggested on Twitter following the Russian retreat to the east bank that an attack from the Zaporizhzhia region would be a wiser move from the Ukrainian forces.
Newsweek has contacted the Russian and Ukrainian defense ministries for comment.