The Ukrainian city of Mariupol will be controlled by Russia within days, according to an assessment by a European official, who warned that atrocities against civilians in the southern port city will likely far exceed the massacres witnessed in Bucha.
“Mariupol will be controlled in the coming days,” the official said.
The warning comes two days after Ukraine rejected Russia’s demands to surrender in Mariupol, and Russia looks to a renewed effort in eastern Ukraine.
The 'main objective': The European official said that Mariupol is the “main objective” for Moscow, and the city is key for Russian forces to establish a land bridge from Crimea to the Donbas, from southern Ukraine toward its eastern territory.
Putin’s objectives are to seize all of the Donbas, including the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which Russia recognized as independent as a pretext for invading Ukraine, as well as capturing Mariupol and the Kherson region in the southeast to hold naval superiority.
The European official said that a “reasonable, realistic assessment” is that Russia’s offensive into these regions will last between four to six months before reaching a stalemate with Ukrainian forces, but will provide Moscow with a strengthened hand in any negotiations.
How Ukraine can fight back: The official said that Ukraine has an advantage with high morale among its troops, especially after the Ukrainian strike that sunk the Russian navy’s flagship Moskva in the Azov Sea. Ukrainian forces also have an advantage in the southeast of the country because they “know the terrain by heart,” the official said.
Ukrainian forces will use tactics of “mobility and agility” to combat Russian troops in the east, with a combination of anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions, and that will seek to bring Russia to a stalemate and force more negotiations.
The damage already done: Early reports from Mariupol documented atrocities and alleged war crimes such as Russian bombing of a maternity hospital; shelters marked as housing children, and civilian infrastructure.
Satellite imagery has reportedly showed about 90 percent of the city destroyed, and Ukrainian city officials estimate that civilian casualties are in the tens of thousands, through a combination of suffering under military attacks and starvation, with lack of access to food, water and electricity.
The Pentagon’s take: A senior U.S. defense official said on Tuesday that Ukrainians are still fighting for Mariupol, adding that weather has impeded the ability of the U.S. to gather more information.
“It’s clear that the Russians want to take Mariupol. It’s also clear that the Ukrainians are not willing to give it up, certainly not without a fight,” the official said. “And that fight continues. We just don’t have the level of specificity to tell you how many troops are in each part of the city and what they’re doing, we just can’t see that. But broadly speaking, Mariupol is still being fought over.”
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