By Ivan Sigal—Creative Time Reports—December 1, 2016—
The Ukrainian city of Mariupol is located 20 kilometers from the front lines of separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine. Pro-Russian militias briefly controlled Mariupol during peak fighting in 2015 between Ukraine and Russian-backed fighters. Its population has also historically supported pro-Russian positions. For Ukraine, holding Mariupol has been a key strategic goal in its struggle against the separatists.
Mariupol is a major port and industrial center, and Ukraine’s most important point of access to the Sea of Azov. It is also the largest city along the route connecting Russia to Russian-held Crimea. Occupying that territory is one way for Russia to guarantee the strategic viability of its annexation of Crimea. While concerns about a Russian escalation of the conflict around Mariupol have receded, the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election may propel a shift in the U.S. position toward Russia and destabilize the conflict.