At least 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers are believed to have surrendered from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol while an “unknown number” of Ukrainian forces still remain inside the besieged factory, British officials said Friday.
“Once Russia has secured Mariupol, it is likely they will move their forces to reinforce operations in the Donbas,” British defense intelligence officials said.
About 430,000 people lived in Mariupol, located along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The capture of the city would be Moscow’s biggest operational success in its nearly three-month offensive operation.
But heavy resistance from Ukrainian fighters since the start of the war means Russian forces must be reequipped and refurbished before they can be effectively redeployed to a new battlefront.
“This can be a lengthy process when done thoroughly,” British defense officials said Friday in a Twitter message.
Russian commanders are under intense pressure to rapidly achieve operational objectives, however. That means Moscow will likely distribute the forces without adequate preparation, risking further loss of forces to Ukrainian fighters, British officials said.