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Mariupol, strategic target of the Russians


She has become one of the symbols of this war. Mariupol, which had nearly 500,000 inhabitants before the conflict, has been under continuous Russian fire for several weeks. The bombs fall there relentlessly, and the fighting rages on the ground, trapping the inhabitants who would like to flee. The military stubbornness of the Russians reflects the importance of the city in their eyes.

Sensitive geographical position

Mariupol, at the crossroads of Crimea and Donbass, is a geographically strategic point. Since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, it has been an essential target. “It was a strong Ukrainian position. For the Russians, it is essential to seize it in order to be able to release units towards other fronts. Moreover, it will allow them to fully control the axis between the Donbass, the southern bank of the Dnieper and the Crimea”analyzes Olivier Kempf, associate researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS).

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Taking control of this eastern part of Ukrainian territory would also allow the Russians to open up Crimea. Since its annexation in 2014 by Russia, the peninsula has suffered from land and economic isolation. Many of its resources depend on Ukraine, such as water, which comes from a Ukrainian-run dam.

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Symbolic scope

A desire for revenge also animates them. In 2014, the city symbolized the war between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian separatists. On May 9, 2014, while Vladimir Putin was visiting Crimea and a referendum for the independence of Donbass was scheduled two days later, an attack carried out by the separatists forced the Ukrainian army to intervene, killing 3 people and 16 wounded.

The Azov battalion, attached to the Ukrainian army, and designated as Nazi by Putin, established one of its bases there, after having successfully defended the city in 2014. “As part of the denazification advocated by Putin, the city is presented as the symbol of evil by sheltering the Azov battalion”, decrypts Adrien Nonjon, researcher at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco) and specialist in Ukraine. This regiment has real neo-Nazi influences but greatly amplified by Russian propaganda.

Between 2014 and 2022, “Mariupol found itself less than 80 kilometers from the front line in Donbass”, recalls Adrien Nonjon. Several events had reminded residents of this proximity, such as the rain of bombs that fell on the city on January 24, 2015. An attack attributed to pro-Russian separatists.

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An economic asset

The Ukrainians have strengthened their military presence over the years. Mariupol has been the subject of a massive investment policy. Several cooperation plans have thus been launched with Germany, France and the European Investment Bank. A way for Ukraine to assert its presence in the face of separatist ambitions.

“Mariupol was really an example of a successful Ukrainian model”assures Adrien Nonjon. “The city represented a united nation, because, like Odessa, it is extremely cosmopolitan with Jews, Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers, Pontic Greeks…”

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Located on the Sea of ​​Azov, “the city is an important industrial basin in Donetsk Oblast”notes Adrien Nonjon. “It is a commercial port thanks to which Ukraine could export certain foodstuffs such as coal, coke or cereals”adds the researcher.

A takeover of Mariupol and the regional axis by Moscow would deal a severe blow to the Ukrainian economy, and would ensure Russian domination over the Sea of ​​Azov. It would also allow the Kremlin to emphasize that the Russian army is not just suffering losses.

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