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Fact Check: Tucker Carlson Says Ukraine Considered Destroying Kakhovka Dam

Mar 19, 2023

Tucker Carlson made a return to hosting this week, posting a 10-minute film via Twitter in which the former Fox News star made a series of allegations about the Ukrainian government and the recent destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.

The broadcaster took aim at several targets including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), providing a misleadingly edited clip that appeared to show the latter saying "Russians are dying" as a reason to celebrate the U.S.'s financial contributions to Kyiv.

At the start of the clip shared on Twitter, Carlson also claimed that Ukraine's government had once considered destroying the Kakhovka Dam.

The Claim

A tweet by Tucker Carlson, posted on June 6, 2023, viewed 101 million times at time of writing, included a video in which he said: "Blowing up the [Kakhovka] dam may be bad for Ukraine but it hurts Russia more and for precisely that reason the Ukrainian government has considered destroying it.

"In December, The Washington Post quoted a Ukrainian general saying his men had fired American-made rockets at the dam's floodgate as a test strike.

"So really once the facts start coming in it becomes much less of a mystery about what might have happened to the dam. Any fair person would conclude that the Ukrainians probably blew it up."

The Facts

As it stands, the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine has led to the evacuation of thousands of residents and, according to the Ukrainian Ecological League, could deprive Russian-occupied Crimea of vital freshwater supplies for more than a decade.

Tetyana Tymochko, who also serves as an adviser to Kyiv's Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, told Ukrainian national news agency Ukrinform that the dam's destruction was "a result of the terrorist actions of Russian occupiers."

"This will cause one of the largest man-made disasters in Europe in decades and endanger the lives of thousands of civilians," Tymochko claimed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office said Tuesday that at least 150 tons of machine oil had been released into the Dnieper River following the explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant's dam.

Zelensky added on Wednesday that the dam's destruction would leave hundreds of thousands of people without access to drinking water.

Ukrainian internal affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko told Newsweek that hundreds of species of animals and plants in parts of the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions will also be lost. In addition, around 1.5 million hectares of land in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will not be suitable for crops and farming due to irrigation problems.

With this context in mind then, why does Carlson believe that the Ukrainian government had considered blowing up the Kakhovka Dam?

In The Washington Post interview from December 2022 which Carlson referenced, Maj. Gen. Andriy Kovalchuk, the initial commander of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson region, said he had considered flooding the Dnieper River in November to slow Russian supply lines.

The river separated 25,000 Russian troops from supplies, with Russia arming and feeding its forces via three crossings: Antonovsky Bridge, the Antonovsky railway bridge, and the Nova Kakhovka dam.

Both bridges were targeted by U.S.-supplied HIMARS launchers. Kovalchuk added that HIMARS were used in a test strike on one of the dam's floodgates "making three holes in the metal to see if the Dnieper's water could be raised enough to stymie Russian crossings but not flood nearby villages," the article said.

Kovalchuk said while the test was a success this remained a last resort and that he held off.

This is substantially different from Carlson's claim that the Ukrainian government had considered destroying the dam entirely.

Whether the damage caused by the HIMARS strike may have contributed to the dam's eventual destruction remains to be seen. What is crucial here is that Carlson has left out details from the article.

Furthermore, with Ukrainian forces advancing into Kherson as part of their counteroffensive against Russia, at face value, it makes less sense to destroy something that would cut off power, deprive clean water, and slow progress Ukraine had been making within that territory.

In addition, Ukraine now faces having to respond to an additional crisis caused by the flooding, both in preserving civilian lives in the region and, in the longer term, rebuilding the damage caused by the breach.

Carlson does mention that the flooding has indeed led to widespread damage of the Russian-controlled Crimean regions surrounding it, which could also hamper Russia's military resources nearby.

However, that context is then used to introduce the claim that the Ukrainian government had considered destroying the dam, using the Washington Post article as his only source beyond that.

Carlson's conclusion that the Ukrainian government had considered destroying the dam misrepresents what was actually written. It might also fail to consider the perceived counterintuitive nature of such a move at a potentially pivotal moment in the conflict.

Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian President's Office via email and Tucker Carlson via Twitter for comment.

The Ruling

Needs Context.

Carlson's claim that the Ukrainian government had considered destroying the dam is based on an article which does state that it was targeted late in 2022 by Ukrainian forces in a test strike.

However, Carlson does not state that the test strike was intended to raise the water levels of the Dnieper River in order to cut off Russian supply lines that were bisected by it. The strike was said to have made three holes in one of the dam's floodgates but was not, according to the Post's article, intended to destroy the dam.

While a Ukrainian general told The Washington Post that the strike was a success, no further strikes were reportedly carried out. The article does not state that the intention was to blow up the dam.

Whether the strike had any part in the dam's eventual collapse remains to be seen. However, Carlson did not mention this additional detail in the video he posted on Twitter.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team

Needs Context. FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team