Negotiating with a mass murderer is impossible. Putin Russia’s barbarism will end only when Russia is defeated and Putin ends.

ByAlexander Motyl

June 6, 2023



Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam is, above all, a sign of desperation from President Putin.

The Russians know they’re losing the war.

They know they won’t be able to withstand the forthcoming Ukrainian counter-offensive.

And they are now engaging in a watery version of a scorched earth policy that, they hope, will stall the offensive by diverting Kyiv’s attention and resources from killing Russian soldiers to saving Ukrainian civilians.

That may work for a few days, but its major effect will be to harden Ukrainian resolve to drive the genocidaires from their land.

Make no mistake about it. The destruction is unquestionably Russia’s doing.

To suggest that the Ukrainians would have done something this idiotic and outrageous is, frankly, the height of ignorance.

Destroying a key element of their own energy infrastructure makes no sense. Destroying it so as to complicate their counter-offensive makes no sense. And threatening the lives of thousands of Ukrainian citizens makes no sense. The Kremlin did it—period. And we shouldn’t pretend that responsibility for this inhumane act has still to be established.

The destruction of the dam is also of enormous symbolic importance, as it happened on United Nations Russian Language Day. The coincidence speaks volumes about what Russian language and culture have come to symbolize for Russia’s neighbors: death and destruction.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has weaponized Russian language and culture, transforming what should be words, ideas, and practices into simple barbarism. And the Russians wonder why Russophobia has grown in leaps and bounds since the onset of their genocidal war against Ukraine. Indeed, thanks to Putin and his supporters, anything but Russophobia would be undignified and immoral.

But was it a coincidence? The Russians are fully aware of goings-on at the United Nations—especially as their country held the presidency of the UN Security Council in April. They are very attuned to the symbolic importance of dates. Might they have decided to destroy the dam on Russian Language Day purposely?

The question isn’t preposterous. And the answer makes sense. What better way to convey to Ukrainians and other non-Russians that the choice they face is between abandoning their identities and physical obliteration?  What better way to restate the point that Putin and his propagandists have been making since the war began: that Ukrainian and Ukrainians have no right to exist?

One final point. The implications of this barbaric act should be painfully clear. Negotiating with a mass murderer is impossible. Putin Russia’s barbarism will end only when Russia is defeated and Putin ends.


A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books.