Why Russia wants to close off Mariupol steel plant

CNN staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin has on Thursday scrapped plans to storm the Azovstal steel plant in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Instead, he told his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that the plant — a sprawling complex which is among the last significant holdouts for Ukrainian forces in Mariupol — should be sealed and those inside should once again be offered the chance to surrender in exchange for their lives and a “dignified treatment.”

A retired military official told CNN on Thursday the decision by Putin “militarily … makes sense.”

Speaking to CNN, retired Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis said:

“There’s no point in just ratcheting out and going in for each individual person in that very labyrinth complex … There’s no reason to do that.
All they have to do is just keep that last piece cordoned off and virtually the city is already theirs.”

The plant is currently sheltering hundreds of soldiers and civilians. After numerous failed attempts to establish safe corridors, four evacuation buses managed to leave Mariupol on Wednesday, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

“Even though the Russians don’t go after them [the Ukrainian troops inside the plant], because they have them surrounded, they can’t get even food or water, much less ammunition,” Davis added.

“The risk to those soldiers is that they would slowly die if they don’t get some help. I think in probably the coming hours or days you’re going to hear that those troops are finally negotiated out.”

Putin declared on Thursday that Mariupol had been “liberated,” but Shoigu said Russian forces would need three to four days to take over the Azovstal plant. Ukrainian officials have denied that the southeastern city has fallen to Russia.

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