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Port of Mariupol Becomes the Bone of Contention Between Russia and Ukraine?

The Port of Mariupol, located in Mariupol, Ukraine on the north-western coast of the Taganrog Bay of the Azov sea has become a point of tension between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow may try to establish unilateral control over the Kerch Strait and perhaps, seek to block the Port of Mariupol. These accusations were made by Ukrainian experts while talking to EurAsian Times. 

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Before the latest Kerch Strait incident, on November 25 Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels and 24 Ukrainian sailors who were headed towards Mariupol, which was regarded as the first open clash between the two countries since 2014.

The Ukrainians fear that Moscow will impose an economic blockade on Ukrainian ports in a bid to up the economic pressure on Kiev. And the United States has added more to speculations that Russia might be angling to take control of the key Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

The top civilian in the NATO member’s Ministry of Defense, Permanent Secretary Kristjan Prikk recently stated that Ukraine has economic and social problems because of the conflict. “By squeezing the access to this area (Mariupol) of Ukraine, they are making the social or economic conditions even worse and possibly, possibly trying to create some kind of social upheaval there.”

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According to the Independent, since the skirmishes began, Mariupol has seen its traffic decrease by about 30 per cent and this equates to millions of dollars in trading loss. “Ukraine’s response in the last week has been forceful, declaring martial law in 10 border regions, including the Azov Sea.”

Local industrialist and politician Serhiy Taruta who governed Donetsk region in 2014 said they couldn’t reassure potential clients that Mariupol is open for business. He said the Kiev government is repeating many of the same mistakes it had made four years ago.

“We are not in any position to fight Russia but for some reason, we insist on testing them. We didn’t need to arrest the Crimean boat and we could have sent the three military ships by train last weekend. Instead, we tried to make a point by sailing through Kerch. It seems nobody in the Ministry of Defence did a proper analysis of what might happen.”

Moscow has been trying to portray the conflict as an intra-Ukrainian fight between Kiev loyalists and ethnic Russian separatists while reiterating its sovereignty over Crimea.

The “so-called” annexation of the peninsula gave Russia control of both sides of the Kerch Strait. “The extension of the fighting into regions of eastern Ukraine that neighbour the district around Mariupol has heightened the likelihood that Russia would seek total control of the lands surrounding the Sea of Azov,” Prikk observed that there are many important military equipment factories in Mariupol. Moreover, Mariupol has strategic significance for both Ukraine and Russia.

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