Kyiv, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Russia announced Friday that its forces have captured the disputed salt mining town of Soledar, marking a rare victory for Moscow after a battlefield defeat in its invasion of Ukraine. , However, Ukrainian officials reported that fighting for the city continued.
Moscow has pointed to the battle for Soledar and nearby Bakhmut as key to capturing the entire eastern Donbass region as well as a way to wear down the best Ukrainian forces and prevent them from counter-attacking elsewhere. I have also told However, this can be said about both sides, and Ukraine has indicated that a strong defense of its eastern strongholds has helped slow down Russian forces.
Western officials and analysts say the importance of the two cities after months of bloody conflict is more symbolic than strategic.
Since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has made it a priority to seize full control of Donbass – a region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has occupied most of Luhansk. Still under Ukrainian control.
There have been conflicting reports as to who controls Soledar. The Associated Press has not been able to verify the claims for either side.
“The liberation of the city of Soledar was completed on the night of January 12,” said Russian Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian ministry. ,
Controlling Soledar, Konashenkov said, would allow Russian forces to cut off the supply lines of Ukrainian troops in the city of Bakhmut and then “block and encircle Ukrainian units”.
But Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military in the east, denied that the town had fallen, telling the Associated Press that “there are still Ukrainian units in Soledor.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Lithuanian parliament on Friday that Kyiv does not intend to give Russian forces “breathing space” and that the coming months will be “decisive” in Ukraine’s defence.
For its part, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, reported that Soledar’s conquest of Moscow “does not constitute significant progress in operations and is unlikely to herald the beginning of an imminent Russian encirclement” at Bakhmut.
The institute said the Kremlin’s communications had “exaggerated the importance” of Solder, which is a small settlement, and added that protracted and complex fighting had contributed to the depletion of the Russian army.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also downplayed the importance of potential Russian advances in the region on Thursday.
Kirby said, “Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall into the hands of the Russians … it will have no strategic effect on the war.” “And it certainly won’t stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in their efforts to reclaim their territory.”
Hours before the Russian announcement, Ukraine reported heavy fighting overnight but did not acknowledge losing control of the city. In a Telegram post on Friday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliyar claimed Moscow had sent “almost all (its) main forces” to ensure victory in the east and pointed out that Ukrainian fighters “bravely maintain the defence”. trying since.”
“This is a difficult phase of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt about it.’
A Ukrainian official, who requested anonymity for security reasons, previously told the Associated Press that in the Battle of Soledar, the Russians sent the first wave of troops, including many from Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, and they were heavily outnumbered. Had to suffer loss. But they tired the Ukrainian defenders. According to the official, the Russians then sent another wave of highly trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces.
Konashenkov said that the attack on Soledar was made possible by massive air and artillery strikes and maneuvers by airborne troops to encircle the city. He did not mention the Wagner Group, which had previously claimed credit for Soledar’s occupation. There have been signs of tension between the Russian military and the Wagner Group, led by millionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin.
After Prigozhin angrily accused the Ministry of Defense of “persistently trying to rob the Wagner Group of victories”, the Defense Ministry reversed course, acknowledging the group’s “courageous and selfless actions” in taking Solder.
For its part, Ukraine’s Central Security Agency announced on Friday that it would conduct response exercises along a section of the border with Belarus. The move comes amid growing concerns over Belarus’ possible involvement in the war. The country has provided a base for about 10,000 Russian troops, and the two countries will hold joint military air exercises next week.