The city of Mariupol in southeast Ukraine remains contested, according to a senior US defense official, as Ukrainian forces hold out against “almost a dozen” battalion tactical groups, or BTGs.
“Our assessment is Mariupol is still contested,” the official said Monday.
Mariupol, a city which Russia has reduced to rubble in many places, has become the focus of the renewed Russian offensive focusing on the south and east of Ukraine. The city sits on the coast of the Sea of Azov, a strategically important location that would allow Russia to create a continuous land bridge from Donbas to Crimea if the city fell.
The Russians have committed about a dozen battalion tactical groups (BTGs) to the fight in Mariupol, the official said. Each BTG can have as many as 1,000 troops.
“Should Mariupol fall to the Russians, that would free up another almost a dozen battalion tactical groups to be used elsewhere in the east and in the south,” the official said. “But that’s a big ‘if,’ because they Ukrainians are still fighting very hard for Mariupol.”
Russian forces have repeatedly struck Mariupol from the air, using both bombs and missile strikes, as well as artillery strikes from the ground, the official continued.
The official also says an amphibious assault on Mariupol is a possibility, though the US is not able to independently confirm that such an assault is coming, as the Ukrainians have warned.
The Russians “do have some amphibious capability certainly in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov,” so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility there, the official added.