From bombing hospitals, to increased “indiscriminate” attacks, there are fears Putin could be shifting to more cruel and deadlier attack strategies.
Prior to Russia’s devastating invasion in Ukraine, the port city of Mariupol boasted a 16km strip of beach and bustling resort culture.
However in the past nine days, it’s become one of the cities hardest hit but Russian forces.
Wednesday’s airstrike hit a hospital in the besieged southern city, killing two adults and a child, city officials said, updating a previous figure of 17 people wounded. Some of the wounded include women who were waiting to give birth.
Writing on the Mariupol City Council Telegram, the Mayor Vadim Boychenko claims 1207 civilian deaths have occurred during the conflict.
With their citizens currently facing minus-degree temperatures, Mr Boychenko said the city has faced continuous shelling, with their 446,000 population deprived of electricity, water, food, communication and heating.
Overnight, officials also claimed Russian troops had dropped several bombs on a children’s and maternity hospital.
“Direct strike of Russian troops on the maternity hospital. People under the rubble. Children under the rubble. This is atrocity,” wrote Mr Boychenko.
In another post, he writes: “The destruction is enormous. The building of the medical institution where the children were treated recently was completely destroyed.”
‘These will be real sieges’
However, given the cruel siege reported in Mariupol, there are fears Russian forces could repeat these strategies in other Ukrainian cities.
Speaking to The Washington Post, a senior Western intelligence official warned the tactic used by Putin in Mariupol could indicate a shift towards more brutal attacks from Russia.
If so, they feared this could also lead to “massive loss of human life, especially civilians,” they said.
“These will be real sieges,” the official said. “They will be almost medieval in their approach. They will cordon cities. They will bombard them until the ground bounces. And then they will go in, and they’ll go street to street.”
The attack have also prompted Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky to describe the Russian invasion as “offence as a genocide of Ukrainians”.
“The hospitals are ruined, the schools are ruined, the churches are ruined, ordinary buildings and all the dead people, dead children,” he said on Thursday morning.
“A strike on a maternity hospital is a final proof, proof of a genocide of Ukrainians taking place.”
Replay of what happened in Aleppo
The Associate director of analysis at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Rita Konaev said the use of air strikes and destruction of infrastructure could suggest Russia is preparing for a “ground operation”.
She says there are similarities between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the military conflict that razed Aleppo.
Aiding the Syrian government between 2015 to 2016, the Russian military also used air bombardments to target cities. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), it’s estimated these attacks killed 21,452 civilians, over a quarter of who were believed to be children.
“The Russian approach to urban warfare very much emphasises priming and prepping the ground for any sort of ground operation with this destruction from the air,” Prof Konaev told Vox.
“It’s to break morale, it’s to cause significant damage to the infrastructure of cities, it’s to cause high levels of displacement from the cities.”
What does this mean for the rest of Russia’s invasion?
With Russia’s siege of Mariupol entering into its 10th day, there are fears Russia’s comittment to defeat Ukraine could foreshadow a return to “unlimited war” and “World War II-era conflicts”.
A report from international think tank, the Atlantic Council said they expected Russia to escalate their siege warfare tactics. These included deadly acts like “indiscriminate air and missile attacks and ground-based rocket and artillery fire”.
In lieu of achieving their desired “lightning victory,” they also believed the setback could cause the Russian President Vladimir Putin to “increase, his tacit or explicit threats of nuclear escalation”.
The startling prediction holds extra weight as Russia’s 64km convoy continues to encircle Kyiv, with military officials forecasting a strike within the week.
Although military fellows writing for the Atlantic Council say an “all-out assault” on Kyiv isn’t likely, fears of a “brutal siege” and mass civilian deaths run high.
“Russia holds the overwhelming combat power advantages that will eventually grind down Ukraine,” they wrote.
“We anticipate another Russian offensive against Kyiv which would heavily rely on artillery and air strikes targeting Ukrainian forces — but with little regard for civilian casualties and collateral damage.”
Originally published as Mariupol siege hints at Putin’s ‘medieval’ tactic to destroy Ukraine