Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu accused Ukraine on Tuesday of blowing up the huge Kakhovka dam as part of a plan to redeploy units from the nearby Kherson region for operations against Russian forces.
A Russian Defense Ministry statement signed by Shoigu said the dam breach and resultant flooding were designed to prevent Russia from attacking near Kherson, while allowing Ukraine to "transfer units and equipment from the Kherson front to the area of offensive operations."
Shoigu did not provide evidence to back up the claim. Ukraine and its Western allies say it was Russia that blew up the dam in the early hours of Tuesday.
While Russia denied responsibility, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station after mining the facility, and said Moscow must be held to account for a "terrorist attack."
A Ukrainian military spokesperson said Russia's aim was to prevent Ukrainian troops crossing the Dnipro river to attack Russian occupying forces.
Zelensky says Russia must be held accountable for terrorist attack
Russian-installed officials gave conflicting accounts, some blaming Ukrainian shelling, others saying the dam on the Dnipro had burst on its own.
"Tonight at 02:50, Russian terrorists carried out an internal detonation of the structures of the Kakhovskaya HPP (hydroelectric power plant)," Zelensky said after an emergency meeting of senior officials.
He said "a set of international and security measures was agreed upon (at the meeting) to hold Russia accountable for this terrorist attack."
In a later video address to a summit of European countries in the Bucharest Nine group, Zelensky said Russia had controlled the dam and hydroelectric plant for over a year.
"It is physically impossible to blow it up somehow from the outside - with shelling. It was mined. It was mined by the Russian occupiers and blown up by them."- Volodymyr Zelensky
Zelensky, whose country wants to join NATO, urged members of the military alliance meeting in Vilnius next month to show "there will be no weakness in Europe" and demonstrate to Russia that "terror is not a tool to influence NATO's decisions."
The Foreign Ministry called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting and new sanctions on Russia, in particular on its missile industry and nuclear sector.
Serhiy Naev, commander of the joint forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said the dam's destruction "should not prevent our advance in those directions where there may be spillage of water."
The consequences of Russia's invasion
Canada, Germany, and the UN have blamed Russia's invasion of the Ukraine for the dam's destruction.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the destruction of a Ukrainian dam "was another example of the horrific consequences of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine."
Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Ottawa, said the disaster was "absolutely devastating for lives and livelihoods across the region." Both Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the collapse of the dam.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock blamed Russia's invasion of Ukraine for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam on Tuesday, saying Germany was working intensively to get an exact picture of the situation there.
"A dam near a nuclear power plant is misused as a weapon of war and human lives are put in grave danger. There is only one thing responsible for this environmental catastrophe: Russia's criminal war of aggression on Ukraine," tweeted Baerbock.
The United Nations stated that it does not have any independent information on how the Ukrainian dam burst, but "one thing is clear, this is another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
The United States government has intelligence leaning towards blaming Russia for the destruction of the massive dam in Ukraine, citing two US officials and one Western official. President Joe Biden's administration was working to declassify some of the intelligence and share it as early as Tuesday afternoon, NBC News reported.
The White House said it could not say conclusively what caused the destruction, but was assessing reports that the blast was caused by Russia, which has been occupying the dam since last year.
Spokesman John Kirby said it was clear that the destruction of the dam on the Dnipro River that separates Russian and Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine had likely caused "many deaths" and the evacuation of thousands of Ukrainians.
Kirby told reporters the damage could also have a devastating impact on Ukraine's energy security.
US 'not certain' who is to blame for burst Ukraine dam
The United States is "not certain" who is to blame for a burst dam in Ukraine, but it would not make sense for Ukraine to have done this to its own people and territory, Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Wood, told reporters on Tuesday.
Ukraine's Zelensky says dam destruction is 'environmental bomb of mass destruction'
President Volodymyr Zelensky described the bursting of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine on Tuesday as "an environmental bomb of mass destruction" and said only liberating the entire country could guarantee against new "terrorist" acts.
"Such deliberate destruction by the Russian occupiers and other structures of the hydroelectric power station is an environmental bomb of mass destruction," Zelensky said in his nightly video address.
Zelensky said the destruction of the dam would "not stop Ukraine and Ukrainians. We will still liberate all our land.
"Only the complete liberation of Ukrainian land from the Russian occupiers will guarantee that there will be mo more such terrorist attacks."