Russia’s Vladimir Putin believes he needs to seize control of Ukraine’s Mariupol before May 9, a European official said Tuesday, voicing fears that the city would be completely destroyed and there would be many civilian casualties.
“My fear is that it is going to be worse than Bucha,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official added that Mariupol could be declared “liberated” by Putin in the “coming days.”
Bucha is the Ukrainian town where Russian forces allegedly carried out mass atrocities against civilians before withdrawing.
“At the end of the day, we do expect a complete destruction of the city and many civilian casualties in Mariupol,” the European official said.
As for other Ukrainian towns and Russian goals, the official said that Russia wanted to take control of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas.
Luhansk was already “mostly in Russian hands,” the official said, adding that Donetsk was more urban and more dangerous. “But Mariupol is definitely the most important objective for Moscow.”
The official said that seizing control of Mariupol would help Russia secure a land bridge from The Donbas to Crimea along Ukraine’s coastal strip.
But the Russian troop morale was very low, according to the official. “They don’t like this war because they don’t like the idea of killing people who speak Russian.”
Another setback for the Russian army was its dependence on railroads, which the official said had been targeted many times.
The European official warned that Putin could turn to chemical weapons or “nukes” to “turn the tide” if he felt he was losing.
“Putin will be extremely unlikely to capitulate and accept a military defeat. So, my guess is there is a risk… And if they use chemical weapons, it’s going to be low-attribution substances. The objective will likely be to accuse the Azov nationalists of using such weapons against their own population,” the official warned.
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