The war in Ukraine that Russia started on Feb. 24 is not likely to end anytime soon now that Moscow has almost full control of the strategically important southern port city of Mariupol, according to an expert.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed victory on Friday in Mariupol, located north of the Sea of Azov and said it was not necessary for his troops to storm the industrial zone of the Azovstal steel plant where those Ukrainian soldiers that remain are stranded and encircled.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, the head of the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) think tank, Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, said the city had seen some of the fiercest clashes in the war and that the Russians had strengthened their position.
Still, Kyiv has indicated that it would not acquiesce to this situation, suggesting the possibility of a Ukrainian offensive on the city, he said. "This corresponds to further prolonging of the war."
By gaining control of most of Mariupol, Russia has also buttressed its position in the Black Sea as it can now freely use the Sea of Azov as an inland body of water, according to Erol, who said establishing a corridor between Crimea and the Donbass region would now be possible to further boost Russia in the days ahead.
Mariupol is known also as a critical location for Ukraine's economy, too, since it is home to the largest port in the Sea of Azov for exports such as steel, iron, and agricultural products as well as imports. The city also has large industrial facilities, so full Russian control has the potential to further economically strangle Ukraine, already severely hit by the war.
"This is a huge blow for the Ukrainian side and it will be removed from the equation of steel (production) and this could turn Russia into a monopoly," he said, while noting the use of Mariupol's resources, facilities, and ports around the Sea of Azov could provide pro-Russian separatists and Moscow with the revenue they need to maintain the war effort.
Moreover, the status quo in Mariupol will provide propaganda opportunities for the Russian administration to gain public support at home and consolidate its position, while also boosting the Russian troops' morale, said Erol.
"That all being said, one can't say the fall of Mariupol would eliminate the Ukrainian resistance, either, and the Kyiv administration hinted at a possible offensive, saying it would not accept the situation in Mariupol," he added.
Moscow may opt to turn to the negotiating table after achieving its goals in eastern Ukraine, especially after securing Mariupol, while Ukraine may take bolder steps to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty, and this has the potential to prolong the war, he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that hundreds of wounded were among the soldiers holed up in the Azovstal steel plant, while some 120,000 civilians were blockaded in the city. Senior EU officials have called on Putin to ensure safe corridors remain open for civilian evacuation.
At least 2,435 civilians have been killed and 2,946 injured in Ukraine since the war began Feb. 24, according to UN estimates, with the true figure believed to be much higher.
More than 5.1 million Ukrainians have fled to other countries, with over 7.7 million more internally displaced, said the UN refugee agency.