Russian Navy Joins the Bombardment of Mariupol

File image courtesy Russian Ministry of Defense

Published Mar 20, 2022 11:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russian warships have joined in the bombardment of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, adding naval firepower to a weekslong campaign of indiscriminate shelling and bombing. 

The Azov Brigade, a far-right Ukrainian unit based in Mariupol, reported Sunday that four Russian naval vessels had arrived off the coast and were attacking the city. These assets add to the artillery of Russia's 8th Combined Arms Army, which has been shelling Mariupol since the beginning of the invasion on February 24. 

Mariupol, March 20

Targeting of civilian infrastructure in Mariupol will likely figure in war crime investigations, which are currently getting under way at the International Criminal Court. "The law is clear on this, it is a crime to intentionally target civilians, it is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said in a recent interview. 

Russia's navy has also contributed to the war effort by blockading the Ukrainian coastline, preventing exports of wheat and trapping about 100 merchant vessels in Ukrainian waters. The blockade is also preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. 

“The blockade of the Ukrainian coast is likely to exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, preventing vital supplies reaching the Ukrainian population,” the ministry said in an assessment on Sunday. 

Russian forces close in

Though the Ukrainian Army has fought Russian forces to a standstill on all fronts, defying all expectations, Mariupol is encircled and may fall to the invading force within weeks. 

Russian units have been making progress towards the city center, and according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, Russia has given Mariupol until 0500 hours on Monday to surrender. If its defenders lay down arms, the Russian Ministry of Defense wrote in an eight-page letter, Russia pledges to allow the civilian populace to leave.

The two sides have negotiated evacuation and relief corridors for Mariupol before. However, Russian forces near Mariupol have allegedly shelled the corridors during designated civilian transit times, raising questions about whether the ministry's commitments are legitimate. 

"There can be no question of surrendering. We have already informed the Russian side about this," said Vereshchuk. "Instead of spending time on eight pages of letters, just open the [evacuation] corridor."

As they push further into the city, Russian forces have also allegedly begun to relocate civilians from Mariupol into Russia, an activity that aligns with past Russian practice and with U.S. intelligence predictions about the fate of post-occupation Ukraine. “What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” said Mariupol’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, speaking to the New York Times.