The Battle for Mariupol Could Spark Greater Land War

Bill Collier- The battle for Mariupol has been replayed at least four times since 1941, and it’s about to start into round 5. The players have changed and so has the dynamic. In October of 1941 it was the Germans taking it from the Soviets, in 1943 it was the Soviets taking it from the Germans, in June of 2014 it was a ragtag army of separatists trying to take it from the Ukrainian “Azov Battallion”, in January of 2015 it was a mix of covert Russian and separatist trying again to take it, and now it would appear that Russian Armored and Artillery Regiments are the real force with so-called “New Russian” separatists, and Cosacks, playing a support role.

What we see happening now is a total commitment of “serious manpower”, as many as 20,000 Russian troops, entering the region near Mariupol with the intention of seizing this strategic city and rolling up the Ukrainian defenders throughout the eastern half of their country. Depsite pledges by the US and Britain to “guarantee” Ukrainian territory if the Ukrainians gave up nuclear arms (which they did), so far neither the US nor NATO are forthcoming with decisive help. Negotiations and rhetoric and declared cease-fires have failed to change the situation on the ground.

Russia wants to create a land bridge to the Crimea, which it seized by a coup de main, extended from Russia through eastern Ukraine. Therefore, Mariupol, a coastal city and strategic rail and road hub, is vital to achieving that aim. It is alleged that the Pro-Russian separatist leaders are mere puppets of Moskow, which is using a classic Soviet tactic to soften an enemy with fifth column sympathizers acting as a front and using proxy fighters as well as their own troops in a covert role while claiming non-involvement.

But Ukraine’s government is hearing none of it, declaring unofficially that they are basically “at war” with Russia. A cease-fire set to take effect on February 15th has not even truly begun as Russian army shells continue to fall on Ukrain positions and as it appears the Russian Army are staging for a large-scale attack “within weeks.” This attack is feared to be brutal in its intent and could embroil the 500,000 civilians who live in Mariupol in the fighting. Currently, the figvhting is only around 5 miles from the city along a front line begining at Shyrokine on the Azov Sea and snaking due northeast to to the town of Krasnoarmyisk.

It is estimated by Ukrainian forces on the ground that a large force of 50,000 Russian troops and over 200 tanks are massing across the border near Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast- of these, however, as many as 20,000 with 36 tanks and 26 Grad Missile systems were alleged to have already crossed in Ukrainian territory.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are digging in with some describing scenes reminiscent of World War One and are rushing combat troops to both Mariupol and Kharkiv, another city thought to be in Russia’s sights. There is no doubt to the intelligent observer that Russian forces are in fact attacking the Ukrainians and shelling continues despite the fact the Ukrainian forces have been ordered to refrain fro returning fire.

A typical Russian tactic is to infiltrate “civilians” into a target area who are really special operations teams or partisan guerillas to cause chaos in the enemy rear prior to an attack, and with that in mind Ukrainian forces have round up over 100 persons thought to be members of such covert attack cells. The government of Ukraine has claimed that many captured “rebels” have Russian military ID’s.

It is not known how large the Ukrainian force is in the area, but it may include 30,000 fighters with only a third of the armor deployed by the Russians. It is not known how high the morale of Ukrainian troops is, it is being lowered by the stand-down order and because they are getting news that all requests by the Ukraine to the US and NATO for defensive arms have so far fallen on deaf ears.

But a full-on land war in which the Ukrainians and Russians formally declare war, forcing the US and NATO to decide whether to aid the Ukraine of not, is in the offing. If it is not answered, some analysts predict, as a worse case scenario we could see the unravelling of NATO as an effective body because various countries will determine that US and NATO backing can guarantee nothing.

This will cause a virtual arms race and a re-alignment of powers, centered on Poland perhaps, who see that unless they arm themselves heavily they have no guarantee against further Russian aggression. It will also continue to undermine US prestige and the value of American diplomacy. For instance, Washington’s insistence on Israeli restraint regarding Iran is predicated on the same kind of guarantee once given to Ukraine. Other US allies, like Egypt and the Gulf States, will draw their own conclusions as well.

It is argued that a failure to demonstrate to Russia NOW that full on war will be met with a like response is what is making full on war increasingly possible.