Here’s why Russia’s pursuit of Mariupol – and why the game-changer may not be what it used to be – patriotism

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After weeks of bombing and allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed, Dr Ukrainian port city Mariupol Looks like he’s about to fall into it Russian hands.

But experts say the capture of the city, while achieving a strategic objective, is now much more about giving Russian President Vladimir Putin something important to show for an invasion that has so far failed to achieve its main goals.

“Putin desperately needs victory,” said the retired Canadian major general. Dennis Thompson, now a fellow at the Canadian Institute of Global Affairs.

“The pressure is on to give him victory somewhere, and it seems that Mariupol is where he will get it, even if it leads to the complete destruction of the city.”

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Russia claims that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines surrendered in Mariupol

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Russia said on Wednesday that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines, among the last defenders holed up in the city’s Azovstal industrial zone, had surrendered, although Ukraine has not confirmed this.

Mariupol has been reduced to “ashes” According to Ukrainian officials. Satellite images and images captured on the ground show that most of the infrastructure has been destroyed due to the constant Russian bombing and missile attacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Wednesday that Russia is stepping up its efforts in the south and east – suggesting that Mariupol remains a key target after nearly seven weeks of fighting.

Overview of western Mariupol with views of port facilities and burning buildings on April 12, 2022.

Satellite Image © 2022 Maxar Technologies

Why does Russia want Mariupol?

Mariupol, which was home to more than 400,000 people before the war, is the largest Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov and the main port serving industries and agriculture in eastern Ukraine. It is also the site of some of the largest metallurgical plants in Ukraine.

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It was also the largest city still under Ukrainian authorities’ control in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively as Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists had spent years fighting for control. Putin recognized these provinces as independent a few days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Capturing Mariupol would give Russia complete control of the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, as well as a secure land bridge linking mainland Russia and pro-Russian breakaway lands in the east with Crimea, which Moscow captured and annexed in 2014.

This bridge would unite Russian forces on two major axes of invasion, freeing them to join an anticipated new offensive against the main Ukrainian force in the east—which could allow the Russians to attack from two directions.

Thompson says Russia already has a connection between the mainland and the easternmost point of Crimea. Although it allows Russian troops to approach from the south, this bridge is longer and less secure than the one between Russia and Mariupol.

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Now, he adds, capturing the city – after Ukrainians have already been denied access to the port of Mariupol and occupying the surrounding area for weeks – would be largely symbolic.

“It definitely has to do with Putin getting a checklist that he can show his people and say, ‘Look at what we’ve accomplished,'” he said.

“This may still be useful to the Russians…but at this point, it’s not critical to the Ukraine operation, although that hasn’t stopped them from fighting for control.”

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Exhausted refugees from Mariupol, Melitopol, take part in a harrowing journey upon their arrival in Zaporizhia, Ukraine

Exhausted refugees from Mariupol, Melitopol share a harrowing journey upon their arrival in Zaporizhia, Ukraine – April 2, 2022

Mariupol was the site of some of the worst documented atrocities since the invasion began, including the bombing of a maternity and children’s hospital and a theater used to house women and children.

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The city’s mayor estimated that more than 20,000 civilians were killed. More than 100,000 residents remain in the city, but they are cut off from supplies, aid, and even basic amenities like water and heating.

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21,000 civilians in Mariupol have been killed since the start of the Russian invasion, says the mayor

Daily attempts to dispatch convoys to provide aid and evacuate civilians failed throughout the blockade, with Ukraine blaming Russia for looting shipments and refusing to allow buses to pass through the blockade. Moscow said Ukraine was to blame for not respecting the ceasefire.

On Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that in addition to the mass surrender of soldiers from the 36th Ukrainian Marine Brigade, the port of Mariupol is completely under Russian control.

This came a day after news of heavy fighting broke out at the Ilyich Metallurgical Plant in the north of the city, which Russia has since declared also in control.

On Monday, a post on the brigade’s Facebook page said the unit was preparing for a final battle in Mariupol that would end in death or capture as its soldiers ran out of ammunition.

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Some Ukrainian officials said at the time that the post may have been a fake. Presidential advisor Mikhailo Podolak tweeted that the city’s defenders were short of supplies but were “fighting under bombs for every meter of the city”.

Mariupol is likely to fall in the coming days, says Thompson, “depending on how determined the Russians are to discover the remaining items” in the city.

If that happens, he said, Ukraine could try to retake the city, but might have to hold back until Russian forces are pushed elsewhere.

“This should be a long-term goal, because the weapons that Ukraine has are mostly defensive,” he said. “They will need other resources if they want to switch to the aggressive (situation).

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“(The remaining civilians) is a consideration too, of course, the Russians had no regrets about using them as human shields.”

Moscow denied targeting civilians and blamed Ukraine for their deaths, and accused Kyiv of orchestrating events such as the bombing of a hospital and theater in Mariupol.

– With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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