Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 18.07.2018
Bogged down in trench warfare in Donbas, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is shifting to the coast and the waters of the Sea of Azov. The Russian army is bombarding and assaulting Ukrainian defenders on the eastern approaches to Mariupol with greater intensity than any other sector of the battlefront. Russian naval forces are detaining vessels in the Sea of Azov that are bound for the Ukrainian ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol. Russia has imposed a partial maritime blockade of those Ukrainian ports due to its illegal construction of a bridge between Krasnodar Krai in the Russian Federation and Ukraine’s region of Crimea (which is illegally occupied by Russia). Fears are growing that Putin may expand his war against Ukraine with a full offensive, whose objective would be to create a “land bridge” between Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea and Russian-occupied Ukrainian Donbas, and beyond that to the Russian Federation proper.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, made comments about the defence of Mariupol and the Sea of Azov during an appearance on the “Freedom of Speech” television program on July 16. President Poroshenko said: “Seizing Mariupol and smashing the road by land to Crimea has always been a priority for the ‘Russian world’ strategists.”
Mariupol was liberated from Russian occupation by Ukrainian forces on 14 June 2014. On 25 January 2015, Russian armed forces carried out a horrific attack on a residential area of Mariupol with rockets. 30 civilians were killed and 108 were wounded. On 17 May 2018, the Bellingcat open source intelligence group determined conclusively that the attack came from Russian-controlled territory to the east of Mariupol, and it was instructed, directed and supervised by Russian military commanders in active service with the Russian Ministry of Defence.
The front line city of Mariupol is in a vulnerable position. President Poroshenko reminded the audience of the “Freedom of Speech” program of the anxiety of residents of Mariupol after the liberation in 2014. “The main question was: ‘You will not leave us, will you?’ I said that I will stand side by side with them,” he said.
The Joint Forces Operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reports daily on Russia’s attacks against Ukrainian defenders and civilians in Donbas. Ever since Putin officially opened the illegal Kerch bridge on May 15, Russian occupation forces in Donbas have been most active against the eastern defences of Mariupol. Russia regularly attacks Shyrokyne, Vodyane, Lebedynske, Talakivka, Hnutove, Pishchevyk, and Pavlopil. If these places were to fall, the Russian invaders would be at the eastern district of Mariupol.
Since Russia opened the illegal Kerch bridge, it has moved aggressively into the Sea of Azov. Russian coast guard vessels or Federal Security Service vessels have been boarding, detaining, and delaying ships destined for Ukraine’s Sea of Azov ports. In a couple of cases, the Russians have seized Ukrainian fishing vessels. In his remarks on the “Freedom of Speech” program, President Poroshenko said: “We will not tolerate the illegal capture of Ukrainian and foreign ships moving towards Ukrainian ports, including Mariupol.”
The deterioration of the military situation on the coast and in the waters of the Sea of Azov is severe. The World Cup in Russia is over. The summit in Helsinki has concluded with Trump’s unequivocal appeasement of Putin. The likelihood of a Russian offensive against Mariupol has increased.
Ukraine has been building its defences for four years. Ukrainian Naval Infantry – Marines – are fighting the Russian invaders now from their fortified positions east of Mariupol. Ukrainian combined arms forces are in readiness to the west of Mariupol to repel any Russian amphibious assault. Ukrainian armed forces are prepared to defend the homeland from the foreign invaders from Muscovy. They’re prepared to do so without expecting any help from Ukraine’s friends and partners. As President Poroshenko said in a tweet on July 16: “We are ready and will defend our land even if we remain alone, without international support.”
American and western European appeasement of Russian aggression encourages Putin to think he can launch a greater offensive against Ukraine with no ill consequences. But Putin is reckless not to understand that Ukrainians will fight like hell and will make the invading Muscovites pay dearly, should they further invade the Ukrainian homeland. Ukraine will never surrender. Russia will never conquer Ukraine. Putin made a fatal mistake when he invaded Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas. Putin will accelerate his doom should he expand his war against Ukraine to Mariupol and the Sea of Azov.
Photo: Ukrainian style concrete tetrapods in Mariupol as a symbol of defense from Russia