Battle of Mariupol Formally Ends After 82 Days

Was really over a month ago

All fighting was over by May 17, took until May 20 for the last Ukrainian to be taken into captivity

The last of the Ukrainians holding out in Azovstal plant have surrendered. 2,439 men in total, of whom at least 771 of the Azov regiment. (Ie, the majority were not Azov.)

This marks the formal end of the siege of Mariupol, albeit the battle was already mostly over by April 22 when the last resistors retreated into the city’s gigantic steel plant.

Counting all the cities over 100,000 the Russians have captured so far produces the list of:

Mariupol — 600K

Kherson — 300K

Melitopol — 150K

Berdyansk — 100K

That’s it. That’s the whole list.

Taking Kherson mostly intact and over just a few days was a big coup for the Russians.  Taking Mariupol was much costlier by comparison for the Russian military and especially for the city itself.

By offering tenacious resistance in Mariupol for two months until April 22 the Ukrainians forced the Russians to take losses, tied down some forces, and ensured the city Russia captures is a financial sinkhole that will take billions to rebuild.

Mariupol is 50% ethnic Russian and 50% ethnic Ukrainian which in practice means that people there are heavily intermixed and do not regard the Russian-Ukrainian divide as a particularly hard one or even a meaningful one. They are precisely the people who believe that Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same, because in their locality that is exactly right.

By and large, they do not appear to resent the Russian presence, or even blame Russia for the destruction of their city.

Of course Mariupol is 15 kilometers from the 2014 armistice line. The further west and north the Russians venture the less of this pro-Russian bias they will encounter and the more pro-Ukrainian bias they will have to contend with.

Today no one builds fortresses anymore. With the firepower available today a fortress built to resist it would be prohibitively expensive. However our sprawling cities are natural fortresses. The sheer amount of concrete soaks up firepower and offers the defender an abundance of dominant firing positions.

Contrary to popular misperception fortresses were never built to be impregnable. They were built to slow down an invader and raise his costs.

The idea was often that fortresses would eventually fall but would prolong the campaign for the enemy so much that he might go bankrupt or have his armies decimated by disease before he was able to finish the conquest.

Larger powers built them with the idea to buy time until a counterattacking force could be organized. Or to defend a less important border while armies were away attacking in a key region.

But especially for weaker powers fortresses were a weapon of attrition, not of static defense.

Early Netherlands is a classic example of a small power that was able to defy attempted reconquest by the world hegemon of the day in this way. Habsburg Spain could take any and all fortresses, but the Dutch were able to ramp up the price to a point where Madrid decided it wasn’t worth the treasure.

Seen in this way the effort that was needed to capture Mariupol does not necessarily bode well for Russia. If henceforth each and every large city has to be taken in a similar manner then how far can Russia (at partial manning) go before exhaustion? And what will it have to show for it? Bombed out hellholes?

Capturing fortresses is bloody and time and resource-intensive work. How many more Mariupols does Russia (which is declining to even use its serving conscripts) have in her?

Nikolayev (500K), Odessa (1M), Krivoy Rog (600K), Zaporozyhe (700K), Dnipro (1M), Poltava (300K), Kharkov (1.5M). How many of these can Russia realistically take before it has to ask for peace (or go to full manning)?

In fact right now Russia is fighting a second Mariupol in Severodonetsk, which is proving to be nearly as taxing and destructive. Together with Rubizhne and Lisichansk the city forms an urban agglomeration of 300,000. An agglomeration for which the Russians have been fighting for since around March 15. So far of the triple cities only Rubizhne has been taken.

Quite possibly the Ukrainians are preparing to offer similar resistance in Slavyansk (100K) and Kramatorsk (150K).

So far the Ukrainian decision to treat cities as fortresses and leverage them to tie down the enemy and raise his costs (as was Soviet defense plan had they found themselves in a similar situation) looks like a good call and the best strategy available to it. 

It also means heavy losses for Ukrainian defenders, but their losses would be higher if they tried fighting in the open instead. Losses are compounded if/when cities are surrounded and the garrison is eventually forced to surrender, but that is the cost of doing business. No fort garrison is expected to last forever without relief. Also, unlike Russia, Ukraine is conscripting for the war and can stand up replacements in their thousands. 


*The Ukrainian regular army retreated from Kherson leaving behind local territorial militias and civilians with Molotovs.

  1. YakovKedmi says

    Brest Fortress held out for 30 days. Azov Steel Mill held out for 80 days.
    >>>> “Kherson …. was a big coup for the Russians”
    There are serious questions (treason) as to why and how the Ukrainian Army allowed the Army of Russia just to walk in and take the north shore. If the Ukrainians had blown up just that one bridge…..

    1. Oscar Peterson says

      Is there anything substantive in the treason claim or is it just a way for the GoU to explain Russian success in Kherson (with all the implications for Ukrainian imports/exports)?

      My assumption was that Ukraine simply focused its resources elsewhere, thinking perhaps that the Russian attack out of Crimea would go entirely against Mariupol and so they took risk at Kherson

      If so, it makes you wonder what Russia might have accomplished if some or all of the Eastern Military District forces had been used as follow on forces in the far south rather than against Kiev. Maybe they could have gotten to Odessa shortly after Kherson.

  2. YakovKedmi says

    >>>> “focused its resources elsewhere”
    One platoon with a bag of dynamite, at four locations, would have been enough.

    You are there, I am here; Ukraine is far away. Neither the Ukrainian high-command, nor the Russian high-command wants to investigate and reveal to the public.

    >>>> “makes you wonder”
    Or, it could be interpreted that (for whatever reason) the army group approaching Kiev, and the army group approaching Harkov, expected similar stand-down from the Army of Ukraine.

    1. Oscar Peterson says

      Well OK–maybe.

      But the treason theory should be pretty easy to confirm/deny. How were AFU forces deployed around the lower Dneipr and who was commanding them? Where is he now? If he’s hanging with the Russians, that would support the theory; if he fled to GoU controlled territory, probably not.

      1. YakovKedmi says

        The treason explanation could be an answer to the question we have been asking since March.

        There is an interview in the Wall Street Journal with general Budanov, chief of Ukrainian Spy Agency.
        Mr. Budanov says a good portion of the officers of the Russian armed forces are Russians from Ukraine. They have first-hand knowledge and very good information as to the disposition of the people of Ukraine. This, of course, works both ways —and general Budanov claims he knows everything about the Russian plans.

        Somehow this hard-to-believe war plan was formulated —as if Soloviev, Skabyeva, Simonyan and the TV dinner-club had been in charge of the military— to parade into Kiev, Harkov, Odessa, Mariupol, and effect regime change. Messrs. Putin, Shoigu, Gerasimov cannot be galactically stupid; they must have been given woefully bad information.

        It could be that the Russian leadership received assurances of treason on the part of some Ukrainian commanders. Only the division-commanders in charge of route 17, the road to Chaplynka, and route 18 delivered on their promises. So the north shore was taken according to this plan. At Kiev and at Harkov nothing went according to Russian plans. There are malicious rumours that division commanders fell silent, but soldiers at the brigade level, having no instructions, fell back on their default setting that they were there to defend —and defend they did. There are also those rumours that the Nazis prevented regular-army officers from surrendering.

        We heard about the large-scale clean-up in the Russian Spy Service and among generals, but “The Moscow Times” is not reporting on it.

        1. Oscar Peterson says

          Yes, maybe.

          But again, who was the AFU commander of the Kherson area and where is he now?

          An answer to that simple question comes close to an answer to your more complicated one.

  3. Juan says

    Bruh bud they are going for the force concentrations. Azov had to be taken off. Look how the rest of the frontline is collapsing. Once ukropistan runs out of trained, experienced and motivated fighters, they will fold like wet toilet paper. All those shipments of weapons will do nothing. Unless the yanks and their NATO slaves risk their own skins.

    1. Pink Unicorne says

      Has it ever occurred to you that Russia’s running out of pros even faster?

    2. Pink Unicorne says

      “But Russia’s got 146 million pure-bred East slavs while the Yanks got only 60000 trannies and wokes”
      I can almost imagine your next line.

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