Red Alert Update: At the Heart of the Mariupol Crisis
As the situation on the ground quiets down in the wake of the Jan. 24 barrage by Russian-allied forces near the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Stratfor is continuing the watch initiated by our Red Alert. We believe, at the very least, that Russia is keeping its option to mount an offensive open, and at most, is preparing to launch an offensive to secure its hold on the Crimean Peninsula.
The artillery barrage in Mariupol has died down, and according to the Ukrainian military’s local commander, there have been no attacks today. Some diplomacy is spinning up, and mutual charges of responsibility are being exchanged. The pro-Russian faction is blaming the Ukrainian military for the attack, and the Ukrainians are charging that the Russian military initiated the barrage, not Ukrainian pro-Russian factions. The fog of war is being supplemented by deliberate disinformation on all sides. The issue is whether this was an isolated incident or part of an extended strategy. If it is, it is not a Ukrainian strategy. Following recent defeats, Ukraine is not in a position to go on the offensive in this region, despite a noticeable build up and mobilization of Ukrainian forces in recent weeks. The Russians, however, have been moving regular forces, including some first-rate units, into Donbas. More important than the charges and counter-charges is this fact: At this moment, the rebels are being strongly reinforced by Russian forces, and those forces have an operational advantage but a strategic problem.