Mariupol has been deemed to be the most heavily damaged and bombed city in Ukraine’s war against Russia and has been the victim of the brunt of the constant Russian attacks. It is a crucial component of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. What’s the motivation?

There are four reasons why taking over the port city could be an advantage for Russia and a massive hit to Ukraine.

 1. Secure a land corridor between Crimea and Donbas

Geographically Mariupol is a city. Mariupol is a small space on the map, but it’s now against Russian forces that have exploded out from the Crimean peninsula.

The group is pushing to the north and east to connect with their Ukrainian separatist partners in east Ukraine’s Donbas region.

General Sir Richard Barrons – former commander of the UK Joint Forces Command – claims that the capture of Mariupol is essential to Russia’s war efforts.

«When the Russians consider that they have won the fight they will have built the land bridge that connects Russia into Crimea and will view this as a significant strategic victory.»

If Mariupol were to be taken, Russia would also have complete control over more than 80 percent part of the Black Sea coastline – cutting off the flow of commerce between its ports and isolated from the outside world.

In defending themselves against advancing forces over the last three weeks, Ukrainians have managed to disperse many Russian troops. However, the inability of Russia to ensure a quick capture of the city has forced Russian commandos to use the 21st Century version of medieval siege tactics.

They have pounded Mariupol by using artillery, rockets, and missiles, damaging or destroying more than 90 percent of the town. They also shut off electric power, heating food, and medical equipment – causing the human-caused humanitarian catastrophe that Moscow is now blaming on Ukraine for not surrendering within the deadline of 05:00 Monday. Russia has accused a Ukrainian MP of «trying to force Mariupol to make it surrender.»

Ukraine has pledged to defend its city to the very last soldier. It could be just that. Russian troops are pushing toward the middle. Without any peace agreement, Russia is now likely to escalate its attack with little, if any, the distinction between its armored defenders and the plight of the civilian population that is still a staggering 200,000.

If and when Russia gets complete control of Mariupol, it will be able to free more than 6,000 troops – divided into 1,000 strong battalion tactical groups for them to deploy and strengthen other Russian fronts in Ukraine.

There are many possibilities for how they can be redeployed.

  • In the north-east region, for a part in the fight to destroy and encircle the regular Ukrainian armed troops fighting separatists of the Kremlin the Donbas region
  • towards the west, pushing to the west, moving towards Odesa, which would be Ukraine’s final central access point towards the Black Sea
  • to the north-west, towards Dnipro, the capital city. Dnipro

Ukraine war on maps The tracker of the Russian invasion

2. The economic crisis in Ukraine is causing havoc to the country’s economy

Mariupol is a strategic port on the Sea of Azov, part of the Black Sea.

Thanks to its deep berths, Mariupol is the largest port within the Azov Sea region. It is also it is home to substantial steel and ironworks. At the expected time, Mariupol is a crucial exporter for Ukraine’s coal, steel, and corn sold to clients from all over the Middle East and beyond.

Ukrainian concrete defenses on a beach by Mariupol port, 17 February

Since the beginning of eight years since Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, The city has been caught by Russian forces on the peninsula and the pro-Kremlin separatists from the self-proclaimed republics that break away from Russia, Donetsk as well as Luhansk.

The loss of Mariupol could be a massive hit to what remains of the Ukrainian economy.

3. Propaganda opportunity

Mariupol is the home of the Ukrainian militia group known as»the Azov Brigade, named after the Sea of Azov, which links Mariupol to the remainder of the Black Sea. It is believed that the Azov Brigade contains far-right extremists, which historically include Neo-Nazis.

Even though they make up only a tiny portion of the Ukrainian army, it has proven an effective propaganda tool for Moscow. It serves as the opportunity to inform the Russian population that the youth that it has been sending to battle in Ukraine will help remove their neighbor from the neo-Nazis.

Azov Battalion training camp at a former holiday resort near Mariupol, February 2019

Suppose Russia succeeds in capturing large amounts of Azov Brigade fighters. In that case, they will likely be paraded around Russian-controlled state media in the information war to undermine Ukraine and its government.

4. Major morale boost

If Mariupol is taken over, the capture of Mariupol by Russia should it happen will have a profound psychological impact on both sides involved in this conflict?

The possibility of a Russian triumph in Mariupol could allow the Kremlin to demonstrate to its citizens via state-controlled media that Russia had achieved its goals and progress.

For President Putin, whose war seems to be a personal one, this is of historical significance. Putin sees Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline as belonging to something he calls Novorossiya (New Russia) – Russian territories in the late 18th Century empire.

Putin is keen to revive the concept of «rescuing Russians from the tyranny of a pro-western regime in Kyiv» according to his vision of it. Mariupol is between him and reaching his goal.

However, for Ukrainians who live in Ukraine, the loss of Mariupol is considerable – not only economically and militarily, as well to the thoughts of those fighting on the ground fighting for their country. Mariupol will be the first city of significance to be lost to the Russians, following Kherson was a strategically less important city only protected.

There is a moral aspect in this, and that’s of deterrence.

Digging graves by the roadside in Mariupol, 20 March

Mariupol has fought strenuous opposition – but take a look at the price. The city is devastated and is mainly in ruin. It will be buried in history and Grozny and Aleppo and Aleppo, cities that Russia ultimately bombed and smashed to the point of submission, eventually reducing them to ashes. The message for the other Ukrainian cities is quite clear. If you choose to resist as Mariupol did, you could be sure of a similar fate.

«The Russians couldn’t walk into Mariupol,» says Gen Sir Richard Barrons, «they couldn’t get in with tanks. So they’ve crushed the city to a point of utter destruction. That’s exactly what we should expect to see everywhere else that matters to the Russians.»

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