Mariupol lies on the land approaches to the isthmus linking Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. If the rebels did capture the city, Russia would win an unofficial land route to a piece of real estate that, a year after its annexation, it’s still having trouble supplying.
If Russia's hand puppets take Mariupol, there is still well over 100 miles of land between that city and Crimea over the north shore of the Sea of Azov.
The Russians would need to drive on and capture the road junction of Melitopol and then advance southwest to Novoolekisiyivka.
Is there really no appreciation of the geography? Is there an assumption that if Mariupol falls then the Ukrainians can't resist at any point farther west?
Russia would be better off building an actual bridge at the Strait of Kerch if they want a bridge to Crimea.
I look at a map and I just don't get it.
UPDATE: I don't go for everything in this article--and think that it should have noted that the Russians grabbed Debaltseve after the latest ceasefire--but at least the author recognizes the distance from Mariupol to Crimea:
Meanwhile the Ukrainian military, deeply battered and overextended, has virtually no means of stopping Russian armor should the insurgents go back on the offensive. Possible, or even likely, goals of a future insurgent offensive include the Black Sea port city of Mariupol, and perhaps to go as far as to establish a land corridor connecting the Russian mainland and the Crimean peninsula.
Not that it wouldn't be a good thing for Russia to capture Mariupol. But it isn't the same thing as getting a land bridge.
UPDATE: And speaking of Crimea:
Germany's goal remains to restore the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday, a year after Crimea's annexation by Russian forces.
Speaking after talks in Berlin with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, Merkel said the March 19, 2014, annexation of the peninsula was a violation of international law that "called the peaceful order in Europe into question."
It sometimes seems that the West is in such a hurry to get Russia to actually obey a ceasefire in the Donbas that their original conquest is being forgotten. So I appreciate Germany's statement.
UPDATE: And speaking of drooling idiocy:
Stephen M. Walt is apparently trying to clinch his case: that President Ronald Reagan's supposedly illegal war in Nicaragua established a precedent, which, some 35 years later, Russia's Vladimir Putin simply followed by invading Ukraine.
Yes. The force (of appeasement) is strong in this one.
I'm not here to relitigate the effort to resist the USSR's attempt to penetrate Latin America in Nicaragua (and which helps explain lingering Russian interest in Venezuela). Nor do I wish to even address Walt--who I have no respect for as an analyst.
I would like to note that the Soviets made an effort in this region in order to defeat us in Europe.
By gaining allies and bases in the Caribbean--whether in Nicaragua, Cuba, or Grenada--the Soviets could interfere with (delay or sink) our shipping of American Army heavy forces through Gulf ports to Europe to resist a Soviet invasion of NATO country West Germany; and could interfere with our use of the Panama Canal to shift Pacific fleet ships to the Atlantic to help get convoys of troops and supplies from America and Canada to NATO Europe.
And it would tie down our forces while we secured the sea lines of communication that otherwise might go to Europe earlier.
UPDATE: And speaking of drooling idiocy, why aren't European "peace activists" rushing to Mariupol to be "human shields" to halt Russian aggression?