European official: Mariupol will fall to Russia within days

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. 

The official, briefing reporters on background about the most recent assessments of Russia’s war, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is intent on holding up the capture of Mariupol as a military success for the country’s Victory Day holiday on May 9.  

“Mariupol will be controlled in the coming days,” the official said.

“The Russians will continue to use artillery and bombings, and at the same time they will push civilians out of the city. So at the end of the day, we do expect a complete destruction of the city and many civilian casualties in Mariupol,” they added.

Russia’s retreat from the suburbs around Kyiv, and in particular the village of Bucha, revealed harrowing atrocities against civilians, including targeted killings, torture, and rape against women and children, to name a few.

“My fear is that it’s going to be worse than Bucha,” the official said of Mariupol.

Early reports from Mariupol, under siege from Russia for two months, 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 European official said that Mariupol is the “main objective” for Moscow, and that the city is key for Russian forces to establish a land bridge from Crimea to the Donbas, respectively located the south and east of Ukraine’s 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. 

“Before this summer we’re going to have a stalemate,” the official said, “they will start the negotiation once the stalemate would be obtained.”

The renewed Russian assault began in earnest on Monday, as the last remaining Ukrainian forces in Mariupol rejected calls by Moscow to surrender.

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.” 

On the Russian side, the European official also said that Moscow has added between 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters to the offensive in Ukraine’s east, made up Syrian and Libyan fighters and mercenaries from the private Russian military group Wagner. 

The European official said that the European Union is still intent on supplying Ukraine with military assistance — a total of $1.5 billion in weapons and artillery — but said allies are unlikely to provide war planes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded for. 

“It’s very complicated to give jets to Ukrainian forces for a lot of reasons, one is maintenance, logistics,” the official said, adding that NATO countries are balancing military assistance with avoiding provoking Russia to use chemical or nuclear weapons. 

Still, the official said that Ukraine has an advantage with high morale among its troops, in particular following 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.

Russian troops, on the other hand, have very low morale.

“They don’t like this war because they don’t like the idea of killing people who speak Russian,” the official said, on top of the loss of Russian soldiers in the battles in the north of Ukraine. 

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. 

Ellen Mitchell contributed.

Tags Mariupol Russia-Ukraine war Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky
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