Image Source: UNIAN
After months of fighting, Russia says it now runs the Ukrainian town of Soledar, which is home to a salt mine. It says this is a “important” part of its attack.
The defense ministry said that the victory would make it possible for Russian troops to cut off Ukrainian supply lines in the nearby city of Bakhmut, which is much bigger.
Officials from Ukraine said that the fight for Soledar was still going on and that Russia was spreading false information.
Around Soledar, some of the bloodiest battles have taken place.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, the governor of the area, said on Thursday that 559 civilians, including 15 kids, could not be moved out of the town.
Experts in the Russian military don’t agree on how important Soledar is because it isn’t very big. But after months of failures and setbacks in Russia’s 10-month war, taking Soledar would probably be seen as a victory in Moscow.
The US-based Institute for the Study of War said a few hours ago that it was likely that Russian forces had taken over Soledar, but it didn’t think they would be able to go on and surround Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s eastern military command spokesman, Serhiy Cherevatyi, said Russia had sent its best mercenary fighters and other units to Soledar. However, he denied that Soledar was in the hands of the Russians and said, “We won’t give any more details because we don’t want to reveal where our fighters are tactical.”
Hanna Malyar, the deputy defence minister, said that fighting had been “hot in Soledar overnight.” In a hard part of the war, she said, Ukrainian soldiers were “bravely trying to hold the defence.”
In his nightly address, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the most important things were Soledar, Bakhmut, and the defence of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian defence ministry said that if they took full control of Soledar, Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut would be cut off and surrounded, and their supply lines would be cut.
It was the first time Moscow publicly said Soledar was under Russian control. The mercenary group Wagner, which has been in charge of most of the fighting in the area, was not mentioned.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the group’s leader, said that his mercenaries had taken over Soledar on Tuesday night. However, the following day, the Russian defence ministry said that Prigozhin was wrong.
Someone made a picture that looked like it showed Prigozhin with fighters in the salt mines of Soledar, but Ukraine said it was taken somewhere else.
Russia’s invasion of its neighbour seems to have caused rifts between the top brass and the leader of the mercenaries.
Since the end of September, Russia has called up about 300,000 reservists for the war. Prigozhin has tried to get more people from Russia’s prisons.
When asked what he thought about the latest news, he said he wouldn’t say anything but said, “The boat is rocking.”
Soledar: The fight in Ukraine shows division within pro-Russian forces
Russia’s defence ministry says that its troops are fighting for Soledar, a town in east Ukraine north of Bakhmut that has been the centre of recent fighting.
It comes after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Russia’s notoriously cruel Wagner mercenary group, said that his fighters were in charge and that only his troops were there.
Most likely, Mr Prigozhin will use any victory to make President Putin think that Wagner is a strong fighting force.
But the Russian Ministry of Defense seemed to disagree with what the controversial oligarch said.
In the military’s daily update, spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, “Solidar has been cut off from the north and the south by units of the Russian Airborne Forces.”
Analysts have known for a long time that the military and Wagner don’t get along, and Mr Prigozhin has publicly criticized generals for not knowing what’s going on in the war in Ukraine.
Even though it’s hard to know if fights are going on in the halls of power, there are some signs.
Yesterday, the news agency Tass said that Colonel-General Alexander Lapin had been named Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces. Sources told Russian media that the announcement of Gen. Lapin’s position, one of those criticized by Mr. Prigozhin last year, was meant to send a message to the oligarch: don’t mess with the military.
But many people here have been quick to praise Mr. Prigozhin and Mr. Wagner for the progress they seem to be making in Soledar. Influential media boss Margarita Simonyan raved about how “polite” he is, thanking Wagner fighters, who she called “my little darlings!”
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Also, military bloggers on Telegram who supported the Kremlin were very positive about the mercenary group. One blogger thanked them for giving them “emotions tonight.”
“When Soledar and [Bakhmut] are freed, it will be a new chapter in the history of the Russian military,” said someone else. This is the first time a private military company has done so well in a severe military conflict.
Military analysts disagree about Soledar’s importance from a strategic point of view. But if Russian forces can take full control of the town, it will be a symbolic win for the Kremlin. Since the summer of 2022, Moscow’s troops have yet to be able to take a single important town from Ukrainian forces.