Rescue in Mariupol?

(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

I assume Emmanuel Macron has reason to believe that Putin will accede to his request here. He wouldn’t have mentioned it publicly if he thought there’s a chance he’ll be rebuffed, right?

No point in futilely getting people’s hopes up and setting himself up to be humiliated, after all.

President Emmanuel Macron says that France was working with Turkey and Greece on a “humanitarian operation” to evacuate people from the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol under attack by Russian forces.

“I will have the opportunity to discuss with President (Vladimir) Putin in the next few hours, but we are going to work with Turkey and Greece to launch a humanitarian operation to evacuate all those who wish to leave Mariupol,” Macron said after an EU summit in Brussels.

A Twitter pal replied, “Putin has managed to bring together the Greeks and Turks. He’s achieving diplomatic feats only spoken of in legend.”

How would this “humanitarian operation” work? Mariupol is a port city so conceivably it could be done by ship, but the pre-war population was 450,000 people. Even if we assume that two-thirds of residents have managed to leave, that’s still a lot of ships. And Mariupol’s location isn’t easily accessible, as it’s on the Sea of Azov between Russia and Ukraine. Evacuating people overland to the west should be easier assuming it doesn’t interfere much with Russian operations.

I frankly don’t understand why Putin is reluctant to let the residents leave. He values Mariupol for its strategic position, because it’s part of the “corridor” on the southern coast of Ukraine between Crimea and the Donbas. What does he care if it’s empty or not when he takes it?

All I can think is that it’s important to him to terrorize the residents in hopes of breaking Ukraine’s morale, especially since Mariupol is the home base of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion. Or maybe he can’t bear the idea of seeing Ukrainians flee en masse rather than stay put and welcome rule by Russia.

After weeks of siege and relentless shelling, Ukrainians have begun comparing conditions there to Stalingrad:

Officials claimed this morning that 300 people sheltering in the city’s theater were killed last week when the Russians bombed the building even though the word “kids” was written in giant letters on the ground outside. I’m guessing that had something to do with Macron’s desperate new push to evacuate people still trapped inside the city, as did this:

The head of the U.N. human rights team in Ukraine said on Friday that monitors had received more information about mass graves in the besieged port city of Mariupol, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies.

“We have got increasing information on mass graves that are there,” Matilda Bogner told journalists by video link from Ukraine, saying some of the evidence came from satellite images…

Bogner’s team is probing alleged human rights violations, such as reports that Russian forces had shot and killed civilians in their cars as they were fleeing; dozens of cases of disappearances of Ukrainian officials and journalists; and the forced movement of civilians into Russian-held territory.

That may also explain why Russia wants the city so badly. At this point, it might be a matter of needing to destroy evidence of atrocities inside. The International Criminal Court is already investigating Putin for war crimes and Tony Blinken has said the U.S. is gathering evidence. No one’s going to haul Putin off to The Hague after this is over but a formal determination that war crimes were committed will make it that much harder for western countries to relax sanctions on Russia as part of a peace deal.

Having the Russians in charge of Mariupol and in a position to limit access by international investigators might be a priority in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Russia’s massive kidnapping effort in Ukraine has reached enormous proportions. Note that neither side disputes the numbers here:

Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, had been taken to Russia.

The Kremlin gave nearly identical numbers for those who have been relocated, but said they wanted to go to Russia. Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern regions are predominantly Russian-speaking, and many people there have supported close ties to Moscow.

Four hundred thousand Ukrainians wanted to go to Russia and leave themselves at the mercy of a government that’s been killing Ukrainians wantonly for a month? That wouldn’t be my refugee destination of choice, especially with NATO countries to the west like Poland admitting citizens of Ukraines en masse.

Here’s Zelensky this afternoon bringing up Mariupol during a meeting of the European Union in which he shamed Hungary’s right-wing Putin-curious leader, Viktor Orban. The mass killing memorialized by Budapest’s Shoes on the Danube Promenade is happening right now in Mariupol, he reminds him.