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Ukraine conflict: The strategic importance of Mariupol

Mariupol is the second-largest city in Donetsk Oblast, situated in the south east of Ukraine. It became a de-facto regional centre in 2014, when Donetsk became the capital of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

Mariupol is located 10 km from the areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists and its geographic position makes it strategically important, as taking the city would enable the creation of a land corridor from Luhansk to Donetsk and down to Crimea. For Moscow, the land corridor would secure control of the Ukrainian coast on the Sea of Azov.

Mariupol is also the biggest port in Azov Sea region. The port's deep berths make it particularly attractive for maritime transportation. Other ports in the region, including those in the Russian cities of Azov, Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog, and Yeysk, have limited berth capacity. Controlling a port with this capacity would noticeably improve the maritime transportation time and logistics throughput between Russia, Donbas, and Crimea.

Mariupol is also an important industrial centre, where the key metallurgical enterprises are situated. Steel and iron production within the enterprises Illich Iron & Steel Works and Azovstal are strategically important for Ukraine. Moscow understands that taking the city and controlling the main port as well as important industries will put economic pressure on Ukraine's government.

Mariupol is crucially important for Ukrainian military operations along the former line of contact – the front line between Ukrainian forces and separatist militias prior to the invasion. If the city is captured, the Ukrainian forces currently located there will face either logistic isolation and/or encirclement. For Moscow it would mean being able to unite the Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine with its troops in Crimea.

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