Staunton, VA, March 14, 2017 – Although most observers recognize that Moscow is treating the Minsk Accords as a dead letter, few of them have focused on a more serious aspect of the Kremlin’s current policy in Ukraine: its effort to seize Mariupol and thus gain a land corridor to Russian-occupied Crimea, Leonid Polyakov says.
The former Ukrainian deputy defense minister and current head of the experts’ council at the Kyiv Center for Research on the Army, Convergence and Disarmament tells Radio Liberty’s Kseniya Kirillova that continuing Russian attacks in the direction of Mariupol clearly have that as their goal.
But Mariupol, a city of more than half a million residents, is important for Moscow for other reasons as well: it is a major transportation hub with an airport and deep water port that would allow the movement of goods and services into and out of that region, and it has three major metallurgy plants that produce military goods Russia needs.
At the same time, Polyakov continues, Moscow has other reasons to renew fighting along the demarcation line. It wants to push Ukrainian forces back from the administrative centers of the regions it occupies. It wants to keep morale among its forces high. And it has not given up plans for “occupying new territories” or for covering the covert introduction of more troops under cover of fighting.
And not least of all, Moscow is interested in provoking a response from Ukrainian forces in order to present its version of the conflict in which Russia supposedly is interested only in peace while Ukraine is the one doing the fighting. Give media coverage of what has been going on around Mariupol, it has had some success in that regard.
At present, there is no clear indication that Moscow will in the near term launch a major attack in the eastern part of Ukraine, Polyakov says; but “Ukrainian must be prepared for the worst possible scenario.” After all, “the Kremlin’s adventurism shows that this can occur at any moment.”