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Why Taking Mariupol Is A Strategic Issue For Russia?

More than 40 days of siege in Mariupol. Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Russian army has been hunting down this port on the Sea of ​​Azov, at the cost of considerable destruction. lUkrainian presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak assured on Twitter on Tuesday, April 12 that the offensive had caused the death of “tens of thousands” of people and destroyed “90% of the houses”† Russian troops continue to tighten their hold on Ukrainian soldiers “surrounded and blocked”† Franceinfo explains why taking the city is a strategic issue for Vladimir Putin and the pro-Russian separatists.

To ensure territorial continuity

There was “a kind of logic that Mariupol is on the front line”as it is located “about fifteen kilometers from the contact line between Russia and Ukraine”emphasizes Alexandra Goujon, lecturer in political science at the University of Burgundy.

The port city is located about 350 kilometers northeast of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and about 100 kilometers south of Donetsk, “capital” of one of the two self-proclaimed republics of Donbass, with Luhansk itself very close to the Russian border . The capture of Mariupol would therefore allow the Russians to consolidate their territorial gains and link Crimea to Donbass. “This is the last lock the Russians will break before the total occupation of southern and eastern Ukraine”summarizes Carole Grimaud-Potter, professor of Russian geopolitics at the University of Montpellier.

By taking Mariupol, the Russians could also control about 80% of Ukraine’s coast on the Sea of ​​Azov. She would then rule over this sea that is open to the Black Sea, which would become an inland sea. “If it succeeds, Russia will not be accountable to anyone, it can put everything there, for example nuclear submarines”explains AFP Alexei Malachenko, director of research at the Institute for the Dialogue of Civilizations.

>> Why controlling the Sea of ​​Azov is a strategic issue for Russia

Depriving Ukraine of an economic lung

Mariupol is the second most important port in Ukraine after Odessa. “The major Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk account for 20% of Ukrainian exports”recall on French culture Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, researcher at the French Institute of Geopolitics, before the start of the war. From this port, Ukraine normally exports its steel, its coal, its maize also, towards the Maghreb countries in particular, the details of the BBC (in English)

“This port is important for Ukraine, because it especially allowed the delivery of wheat and there are large metallurgical plants”, in abundance Alexandra Goujon. One of the most important, Azovstal, was destroyed on March 20, leaving “huge economic losses” for the country, according to a Ukrainian MP. Now fighting is taking place on the site of this huge ironworks.

The conflict made navigation on the Sea of ​​Azov very complicated. On March 1, six days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nearly 170 ships were stranded at sea, some carrying cargoes of grain, with immediate consequences for world wheat prices. “Before the war, the Russians did everything they could to limit trade from Mariupol and the arrival of goods”, recalls Alexandra Goujon. Mariupol and the region also have a cellar “very rich”especially in lithium and gold, according to Carole Grimaud-Potter, who this area is for “a real challenge in terms of resources”

To achieve a symbolic victory

The capture of Mariupol is also of symbolic capital for Vladimir Putin, whose army ran aground in an unsuccessful attempt to take Kiev before refocusing its objectives on the “liberation of Donbass”† Before the Kremlin, the fall of Mariupol “become the symbol”, assures Alexandra Goujon. At the time of the Crimean Offensive in 2014, the city was already coveted by Russian-backed separatist forces. Mariupol had fallen into their hands shortly before the liberation, thanks mainly to the actions of the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian regiment accused of having neo-Nazis in its ranks.

While it served as a refuge for people displaced after losing control of the regional capital Donetsk, Mariupol was also “considered pro-Russian, with many companies trading with both Ukraine and Russia”ensures that World Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, Director of the Russia-NIS Center of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI)† †It is significant to reserve the fate of the tortured city for a historically Russophile and Russian-speaking city”she adds.

“Probably they want to make Mariupol an example, a spectrum of what they can do.”

Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, researcher at Ifri

in the world”

Today the city is almost destroyed, while it was before the war “dynamic, in full modernization phase”according to Alexandra Goujon. “The Russians could not enter Mariupol (…) with their tanks, so they burned it to ashes”summarize the BBC (in English)General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander of the United Kingdom Joint Forces Command.

To serve the propaganda around the “denazification” of Ukraine

One of Vladimir Putin’s arguments to justify this invasion is the target of an alleged… “denazification” from Ukraine. “This term ‘denazification’ is used for the purpose of finding a just cause for this war and sowing doubt in international opinion”, warns Alexandra Goujon. In the Kremlin’s arguments, the Azov battalion is the epitome of this alleged Nazi control over Ukraine. However, the fundamental feat of arms of this unit was the liberation of Mariupol. In addition, the regiment “gained visibility”notes Alexandra Goujon.

Today the Azov Battalion “is considered the defender of the city”, continues the teacher, even if “The city’s political elites are not far-right at all.” Crushing the regiment at Mariupol would then completely return to the company of “denazification” of Ukraine and would enable him to justify this invasion. “Mariupol, because there is the Azov battalion, would be a war prize.”

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