Where the Russian Army Will Advance to After the Sweep of Mariupol

NEW – April 18, 2022

Azovstal — the last hotbed of resistance

On April 16, President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky said that the destruction of the troops trapped in Mariupol “will put an end to all negotiations”. This, according to a number of military experts, is proof that the militants of the “Azov” battalion and Ukrainian units who have been surrounded are on the verge of defeat, and the words of the President of Ukraine are the last attempt to manipulate the current situation.

The question of why the Russian army and the DPR forces took so long to capture Mariupol is gradually disappearing from discussion on social networks. The main achievement of the last few hours was the active advance of Russian troops in the north-east of the city. There, a large hotbed of resistance on the territory of the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works was eliminated. According to some reports, Colonel Andrey Gnatov, commander of the headquarters of the 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol, was captured during the sweep.

In the case of “Azovstal“, there is no longer any division between the nationalist battalions and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. After 1,350 servicemen of the 36th separate Marine Brigade of the Ukrainian Navy laid down their weapons, the remnants of the unit moved to the positions of the militants of the “Azov” nationalist battalion, and Major Sergey Volyna took command of the new “formation”. According to some reports, this could be the last personnel decision in the area — already on Friday there were reports that Volyna was captured after Gnatov.

According to the official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, in Mariupol at the time of its encirclement on March 11, there were: the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, the 109th Territorial Defence Brigade, the 503rd Separate Marine Battalion, a company of the 53rd Separate Mechanised Brigade, units of the 17th Anti-tank Brigade, nazi formations, police and the State Border Service of Ukraine units, as well as foreign mercenaries.

Many reputable military officials, including Scott Ritter, a former US Marine officer who is well acquainted with US and NATO tactics, have spoken out about the fate of the militants trapped in Mariupol. According to him, Russia uses the only correct tactic that allows to save the maximum number of soldiers and resources in this operation and does not leave the enemy any room for manoeuvre.

The fate of the remnants of the nationalist battalions and soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces surrounded in the basements of “Azovstal” is a foregone conclusion — units of individual battalions of the advancing army, such as the “Sparta” Separate Guards Reconnaissance Battalion of the DPR forces, have already reached the sea and the city coastline, from where the plant’s workshops are a few minutes on foot.

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The next step, previously announced by the press secretary of the DPR military command Eduard Basurin, has already been taken — the nationalist battalion militants and the Ukrainian Armed Forces are beginning to cut off the way to the surface, after which Chemical Protection Troops with smoke and thermobaric weapons can join the case.

Ukrainian troops prefer to surrender to the Russian army and the DPR forces en masse — 50-100 people go into captivity, which, according to Major Kirill Latukhin, a veteran of the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, simplifies the task of conducting a special operation: “Mass handing over brings a lot of valuable data, with which it’s possible to adjust the course of the cleansing and avoid unnecessary difficulties. 130 people — this is a whole company, the dislodging of which could have taken several weeks. Every hundred surrenders — this is plus a week, or even two to the speed of progress.”

It is interesting that when examining the basements that the Ukrainian military who remained at “Azovstal” are gradually coming out of, the DPR and Russian Army inspection teams find a large number of foreign weapons for “Soviet” calibers. Among the trophies found are dozens of anti-tank missile systems and hundreds of boxes of ammunition, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the nationalist battalions could not use due to heavy losses and high fire density. The vast majority of ammunition arrived in Mariupol from Poland and Bulgaria.

Where has the Russian army advanced in Ukraine?

In addition to cleansing Mariupol in the southern direction, a safe area has been created with the help of Russian aviation and “Kalibr” cruise missiles. Thanks to the high coordination of actions, the Kherson–Melitopol–Mariupol line was quickly liberated from the Ukrainian army. Clearing out the Ukrainian army and restoring normal, peaceful life on the territory of the “southern line”, where not only coastal cities are located, but also the city of Energodar, located near the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, make it possible to free up a significant number of military personnel and equipment for the general battle in Donbass. However, for the last, decisive defeat of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, it’s necessary to properly prepare.

There are many ways to use the southern dimension. The first is the continuation of the defeat of the Ukrainian army in the southern direction. According to some reports, in an attempt to create a “picture resistance” to the Russian army rushing towards Mariupol and the DPR forces, almost all combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were ground up.

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Some of them managed to retreat to Nikolaev and tried to regroup there. However, to the lack of fuel and the shortage of shells, another difficulty was added. According to unofficial information, in radio intercepts of the UAF command from the Nikolaev area, the phrase “depletion of personnel” is often found, which in translation into ordinary language means the physical elimination of most experienced Ukrainian officers and middle-level commanders. None of the surviving commanders were able to lead the units, so the UAF was left where they managed to escape, until further notice.

In addition, the Ukrainian military and militants of the nationalist battalions could not quickly and competently withdraw from Mariupol due to confusion in documents. Eight years of active work to turn the Novoazovsk-Mariupol-Granitnoye triangle into a fortified area for various branches of the Armed Forces led to the fact that a single plan for all communications and positions did not exist in principle, and preparations for the March offensive on the LPR and DPR only worsened these problems.

This led to the fact that UAF troops fleeing from Mariupol stumbled upon ambushes arranged by the UAF and the nationalist battalions, after which the national battalions entered into skirmishes with the Ukrainian army while trying to separate their own from others. After the Russian army and the DPR forces approached the city, there were several more attempts to escape the Ukrainian military from the garrison, which ended in a fatal outcome. Some units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that miraculously managed to escape from Mariupol a few days before the complete encirclement entrenched themselves in Nikolaev.

Mariupol. View of damaged houses

The plight of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, whose command in the southern direction is almost completely absent, opens up operational space for the Russian army, where it is possible to act both directly and not rush things. One of the likely outcomes may be the division of the southern group of the Russian Armed Forces and the DPR forces into two parts: the first may remain and control the southern flank in the direction of Nikolaev-Krivoy Rog-Energodar-Kherson. In the same direction, near Odessa, Russian air defence systems shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane delivering a large batch of weapons supplied to Ukraine by Western countries.

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Map of military operations in Ukraine

At the same time, the losses of Ukrainian servicemen during Russia’s “Operation Z” do not correspond to official data. According to the statements of the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky, they amount to “about 2500-3000 dead and 10,000 wounded”. Veteran of the special forces of the Airborne Forces and commander of an intelligence company Anton Ryzhanov believes that these figures are understated several-fold: “These losses can only be attributed to some command or group of troops. Even if we simply analyse how the Ukrainian Armed Forces tried to fight in Mariupol, we can conclude that the losses in this area on the Ukrainian side are about 4,000-5,000 just for those killed, and the wounded can be several times more.”

According to the Russian Defence Ministry on the evening of April 16, the irrecoverable losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces amount to 23,367 people.

These guesses are also confirmed by the words of the Russian Defence Minister. At the end of March, Sergey Shoigu said that the main tasks of the first stage of the special military operation in Ukraine were completed, and during it the Ukrainian Armed Forces suffered significant damage: “The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has been significantly reduced, which allows us to focus our main attention and efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbass.”

In fact, with the fall of Mariupol, the entire flank of the UAF’s defence built over eight years collapsed — the loss of a 50-thousandth contingent and a huge amount of equipment almost completely deprives the Ukrainian army of manoeuvre in this direction. Completing the picture is the regular destruction of military infrastructure facilities by cruise missiles: fuel storage facilities, repair shops and parking lots with equipment are destroyed by the Russian Army around the clock. This approach, according to the experienced military men, allows part of the southern group of Russia to move forward to meet the “northern group” and begin gradual preparations for the destruction of the UAF in the Donbass pocket.

Sergey Andreyev

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