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Russia vs. Ukraine in the Battle for Mariupol: Who Wins?

Kornet. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Kornet Anti-Tank Missile.

On day 54 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian forces are still trying to capture Mariupol while the Ukrainian military is launching topical counterattacks in the north of the city.

The imminent Russian offensive in the Donbas hasn’t started yet. Horror stories of Russian war crimes and other atrocities continue to emerge from liberated Ukrainian towns and villages.

Mariupol and Ukrainian Counterattacks

The siege of Mariupol is still raging. The Ukrainian defenders rejected an ultimatum by the Russian forces to surrender by Sunday morning, and the fight continued. The Russians have divided the Ukrainian defenders into two pockets of resistance and are using heavy shelling to destroy their positions.

“The Armed Forces of the russian [sic] federation are completing the creation of an offensive group in the Eastern Operational Zone. The russian [sic] enemy also continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on critical infrastructure of Ukraine,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated in a press release.

In its daily estimate of the war, the British Ministry of Defense assessed that the Russian military is growing increasingly frustrated by the failure to capture the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in the south. The imminent renewed Russian offensive in the Donbas has yet failed to materialize, likely a result of the fighting in Mariupol. The Russian commanders are most likely waiting for that battle to be over before they embark in a large offensive.

“Russian commanders will be concerned by the time it is taking to subdue Mariupol. Concerted Ukrainian resistance has severely tested Russian forces and diverted men and materiel, slowing Russia’s advance elsewhere. The effort to capture Mariupol has come at a significant cost to its residents. Large areas of infrastructure have been destroyed whilst the population has suffered significant casualties. The targeting of populated areas within Mariupol aligns with Russia’s approach to Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016. This is despite the 24 February 2022 claims of Russia’s Defence Ministry that Russia would neither strike cities nor threaten the Ukrainian population,” the British Military Intelligence assessed.

Further north, the Ukrainian military has started counterattacking from Kharkiv toward the Donbas and Izium, targeting the Russian supply lines in order to stop the imminent Russian offensive in the region before it can even materialize. Should the Ukrainians succeed in stalling or stopping the Russian offensive, the Kremlin’s timetable will be pushed further back, with unseen consequences for the war effort, Russian military morale, and the Russian economy.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that as of Monday, Ukrainian forces have killed approximately 20,600 Russian troops (and wounded approximately thrice that number), destroyed 167 fighter, attack, and transport jets, 147 helicopters, 790 tanks, 381 artillery pieces, 2,041 armored personnel carriers, 130 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), eight boats, 1,487 vehicles, 76 fuel tanks, 67 anti-aircraft batteries, 155 unmanned aerial systems, 27 special equipment platforms, such as bridging vehicles, and four mobile Iskander ballistic missile systems.

As always, these numbers should be considered with a grain of salt. Official numbers always err on the side of more enemy casualties. And yet, U.S. and Western intelligence estimates and independent reporting from open-source intelligence indicate that the Russian military is, in fact, losing troops and materiel close to those the Ukrainian military claims.

The Russian military continues to strike across Ukraine with long-range fires, including ballistic and cruise missiles, of which it has launched more than 1,500 since the war began on February 24. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also confirmed the Russian military employed the Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bomber to strike targets in Ukraine, and specifically Mariupol, for the first time in the war.

The Economics of the War 

Destroyed tanks, downed planes, and troops killed in action are the most visible outcomes of the war in Ukraine. But the financial coffers of the two nations also play a big part in the conflict, and the damage there is equally high, though of a different kind.

The World Bank has estimated that the Ukrainian economy could shrink up to 45 percent this year, an astounding figure that would dwarf the 11.2 percent estimate that the Russian economy is projected to shrink because of the sanctions. Ukraine is bleeding approximately $5 billion a month.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.