Mariupol, the strategic Sea of Azov port, remains in the eye of the storm in Ukraine.
The NATO narrative is that Azovstal - one of Europe's biggest iron and steel works - was nearly destroyed by the Russian Army and its allied Donetsk forces who "lay siege" to Mariupol.
The true story is that the neo-Nazi Azov battalion took scores of Mariupol civilians as human shields since the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, and retreated to Azovstal as a last stand. After an ultimatum delivered last week, they are now being completely exterminated by the Russian and Donetsk forces and Chechen Spetsnaz.
Azovstal, part of the Metinvest group controlled by Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, is indeed one of the biggest metallurgic plants in Europe, self-described as a "high-performance integrated metallurgical enterprise that produces coke and sinter, steel as well as high-quality rolled products, bars and shapes."
Amidst a flurry of testimonials detailing the horrors inflicted by the Azov neo-Nazis on Mariupol's civilian population, a way more auspicious, invisible story bodes well for the immediate future.
Russia is the world's fifth largest steel producer, apart from holding huge iron and coal deposits. Mariupol - a steel Mecca - used to source coal from Donbass, but under de facto neo-Nazi rule since the 2014 Maidan events, was turned into an importer. Iron, for instance, started to be supplied from Krivbas in Ukraine, over 200 kilometers away.
After Donetsk solidifies itself as an independent republic or, via referendum, chooses to become part of the Russian Federation, this situation is bound to change.
Azovstal is invested in a broad product line of very useful stuff: structural steel, rail for railroads, hardened steel for chains, mining equipment, rolled steel used in factory apparatus, trucks and railroad cars. Parts of the factory complex are quite modern while some, decades old, are badly in need of upgrading, which Russian industry can certainly provide.
Strategically, this is a huge complex, right at the Sea of Azov - which is now, for all practical purposes, incorporated into the Donetsk People's Republic, and close to the Black Sea. That implies a short trip to the Eastern Mediterranean, including many potential customers in West Asia. And crossing Suez and reaching the Indian Ocean, customers all across South and Southeast Asia.
So the Donetsk People's Republic, possibly part of the future Novorossiya, and even part of Russia, will be in control of a lot of steel-making capacity for southern Europe, West Asia and beyond.
One of the inevitable consequences is that it will be able to supply a real freight railroad construction boom in Russia, China and the Central Asian 'stans.' Railroad construction happens to be the privileged connectivity mode for Beijing's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And, crucially, of the increasingly turbo-charged International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC).
So, mid-term, Mariupol should expect to become one of the key hubs of a boom in north-south routes - INSTC across Russia and linking with the 'stans' - as well as major BRI upgrades east-west as well as sub-BRI corridors.
The INSTC's main players are Russia, Iran and India - which are now, pos-NATO sanctions, in advanced interconnection mode, complete with devising mechanisms to bypass the US dollar in their trade. Azerbaijan is another important INSTC player, yet more volatile because it privileges Turkey's connectivity designs in the Caucasus.
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