Mariupol refuses offer to surrender. Now what?

Mariupol refuses offer to surrender. Now what?
AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

The coastal Ukrainian city of Mariupol has been the scene of some of the most damaging attacks inflicted by Russia during the ongoing invasion. Much of the city has already been reduced to rubble and the death toll there is higher than in most of the rest of the country. Overnight, the Russians sent an ultimatum to the Mayor of Mariupol. If everyone sets down their arms and raises white flags, the Russians would order a ceasefire and open two paths for residents to leave the city, one to the east toward Russia and the other to the west, heading deeper into Ukraine. The answer from the leaders in Mariupol came quickly. They told the Russians they could basically go pound sand. But how much longer can they possibly hold out and what can the west do to relieve the situation? (Associated Press)

Ukrainian officials defiantly rejected a Russian demand that their forces in Mariupol lay down arms and raise white flags Monday in exchange for safe passage out of the besieged strategic port.

Russia has been barraging the encircled southern city on the Sea of Azov, hitting an art school sheltering some 400 people only hours before offering to open two corridors out of the city in return for the capitulation of its defenders, according to Ukrainian officials.

Fighting for Mariupol has continued to be intense, even as the Russian offensive in other areas has floundered to the point where Western governments and analysts see the broader conflict grinding into a war of attrition.

Mayor Piotr Andryushchenko didn’t bother waiting around for the 5 am deadline offered by Russia. He immediately said that surrender was not on the table and vowed to continue fighting. But so much of the city has already been destroyed that survival is becoming increasingly difficult even if the residents manage to avoid being blown up by the incoming shelling.

The major problem for the residents of the city is that Russia still controls the waters off their shore and they are being subjected to naval bombardments. While the inept actions of the Russian army have left the invading forces bogged down across much of the reason, their Navy is still apparently capable of firing on the port city, assuming somebody remembered to send tankers to refuel their ships. (That’s a significant assumption based on how well their army is managing things.)

This raises a significant question for Ukraine’s backers in the west. What sort of weapons could we give Ukraine that might be able to hit the Russian ships doing the shelling? Having other countries such as the United States send in their own ships to take on the Russian ships is a non-starter. That would be the opening round of World War 3. Giving them battleships would be problematic because you would have to get the ships to the Mariupol port in one piece and a quick look at the map of that end of the Black Sea shows you what a daunting task it would be.

But the Ukrainians might be able to strike the ships with fighter jets. The Russians certainly have some surface-to-air defensive systems similar to the American Navy, but they aren’t impenetrable. If you take enough shots, one of them is bound to get through. And you really don’t have to do all that much damage to a surface vessel to silence its launchers. This situation makes the idea of having Poland give Ukraine a shipment of MiGs all the more critical.

No matter what route forward is chosen, we’d better get moving quickly. Time is on Russia’s side in Mariupol. With no power, running water, or regular supplies of food, the people there won’t be able to hold out indefinitely. And losing that port city would be a serious blow to the Ukrainian resistance.

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