- Written by Frank Gardner
- Security Reporter
Mariupol became the most bombed and damaged city in the Ukrainian-Russian War – bearing the brunt of constant Russian attacks. This is the key to Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine. but why?
There are four main reasons why the capture of the port city would be a strategic victory for Russia – and a blow to Ukraine.
1. Securing a land corridor between Crimea and Donbass
Geographically speaking, the city of Mariupol occupies only a small area on the map, but now it stubbornly stands in the way of the Russian troops that came out of Crimea.
They are pushing northeast in an attempt to join their fellow Ukrainian separatists and allies in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
General Sir Richard Barrons – the former commander of the UK’s Combined Forces Command – said the capture of Mariupol was vital to the Russian war effort.
“When the Russians feel that they have successfully concluded this battle, they will have completed a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea, and will see this as a great strategic success.”
If Mariupol is captured, Russia will also find itself in complete control of more than 80% of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, cutting off its maritime trade and further isolating it from the world.
By resisting the advancing forces for the past three weeks, the Ukrainian defenders were able to alarm a large number of Russian forces. But this Russian failure to secure a swift capture of the city prompted Russian leaders to resort to a 21st century version of medieval siege tactics.
They bombarded Mariupol with artillery, rockets and missiles – more than 90% of the city was damaged or destroyed. They have also cut off electricity, heating, fresh water, food and medical supplies – causing a man-made humanitarian disaster with which Moscow now accuses Ukraine of refusing to come to terms with it. Back at 05:00 Monday. A Ukrainian deputy accused Russia of “trying to starve Mariupol into surrender.”
Ukraine pledged to defend the city to the last soldier. can reach it. Russian forces are slowly advancing towards the center, and in the absence of any kind of viable peace agreement, Russia is now likely to intensify its bombing – without distinguishing between the armed defenders and the besieged civilian population. 200,000 people.
If Russia fully captures Mariupol, and when it fully takes control of it, it will liberate approximately 6,000 of its soldiers – organized into 1,000 tactical battalions – to advance further the reinforcement of other Russian fronts around Ukraine.
There are a number of possibilities as to where they might be redeployed:
- Northeast to join the battle to encircle and destroy the Ukrainian regular armed forces fighting pro-Kremlin separatists in the Donbass region
- West to push towards Odessa, which will be Ukraine’s last major port on the Black Sea
- Northwest towards the city of Dnipro
2. Stifling the Ukrainian economy
Mariupol has always been a strategically important port on the Sea of Azov, which is part of the Black Sea.
With its deep docks, it is the largest port in the Azov Sea region and home to a large steel mill. In normal times, Mariupol is a major export center for Ukrainian steel, coal and corn destined for clients in the Middle East and beyond.
For eight years now, since Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the city has been turbulent between Russian forces on that peninsula and pro-Kremlin separatists in the self-declared breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Losing Mariupol would be a blow to what is left of the Ukrainian economy.
3. Advertising opportunity
Mariupol is home to a Ukrainian militia unit called the Azov Brigade, named after the Sea of Azov that connects Mariupol to the rest of the Black Sea. The Azov Brigade contains far-right extremists, including neo-Nazis.
Although they make up only a small percentage of the Ukrainian fighting forces, this was a useful propaganda tool for Moscow, giving it an excuse to tell the Russian population that the young men it had sent to fight in Ukraine were there to rid their neighbor of the neo-Nazis.
If Russia succeeds in capturing large numbers of Azov Brigade fighters alive, they will likely be shown in the Russian state-controlled media as part of an ongoing information war to discredit Ukraine and its government.
4. A big morale boost
Russia’s capture of Mariupol, if it happened, would be psychologically significant for both sides in this war.
Russia’s victory in Mariupol will allow the Kremlin to show its people – through state-controlled media – that Russia is achieving its goals and making progress.
For President Putin, for whom this war appears to be personal, there is historical significance to it all. It is considered that the coast of Ukraine on the Black Sea belongs to the so-called Novorossiya (New Russia) – Russian lands dating back to the empire of the 18th century.
Putin wants to revive this concept, “save the Russians from the tyranny of a pro-Western government in Kyiv” as he sees it. Mariupol is currently preventing him from achieving this goal.
But for the Ukrainians, losing Mariupol would be a severe blow – not only militarily and economically – but also to the souls of the men and women who are fighting on the ground to defend their country. Mariupol would be the first major city to fall into the hands of the Russians after Kherson, a city less strategically important and hardly defended.
Another ethical aspect here is deterrence.
Mariupol put up fierce resistance – but look at the cost. The city was destroyed, largely in ruins. History will record along with Grozny and Aleppo, the places that Russia eventually bombed and bombed to subdue, turning them into ruins. The message to other Ukrainian cities is clear – if you choose to resist, as Mariupol did, you can expect the same fate.
General Sir Richard Barrons says: “The Russians couldn’t get to Mariupol, they couldn’t get in with their tanks, so they reduced it to rubble. And that’s what we should expect to see everywhere else really important to them.”
Learn more about the Ukraine crisis
“Hipster-friendly coffee fanatic. Subtly charming bacon advocate. Friend of animals everywhere.”