January 13, 2023, 21:41 PM
January 13, 2023, 21:41 PM
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed that tseized control of the Ukrainian city of Soledar after a long battle and described the fact as an “important” step for his offensive.
“On the night of January 12, the liberation of the city of Soledar was completed, which is important for the successful continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk direction,” the ministry said in a statement released by Telegram.
This victory would allow Russian troops move towards the nearby town of Bajmut and isolate Ukrainian forces there, a spokesman added.
This was a very strong and ambitious statement from Moscow, but Ukrainian officials said the fight for Soledar was still going on and accused Russia of do “informative noise”.
The battle for Soledar has been one of the bloodiest of the war.
The city is relatively small, with a population before the war of only 10,000 inhabitants and whose economy revolved around the exploitation of salt mines. Its strategic importance is debatable. But if Russian forces are confirmed to have taken control, there is likely to be a huge sigh of relief in the Kremlin.
Throughout the battle divisions arose between the Russian armed forces and the brutal Russian Wagner paramilitary group, and a jealous turf war raged over who should take credit for the advance.
Comparison with World War I
There are hardly any walls left in Soledar, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week. Describing almost apocalyptic scenes, he spoke of the territory as marked by missile attacks and full of Russian corpses.
Speaking during his evening speech from Kyiv on Friday, Zelensky said the battle in the region was continuing, but avoided any reference to Russia’s claims to control Soledar.
“Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our troops, the armed forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces, they are defending the state,” the Ukrainian leader said.
His chief of staff, Andrey Yermak, compared the fight for Soledar and Bakhmut with one of the bitterest battles of World War I, that of verdun.
Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Thursday that 559 civilians, including 15 children, remained in Soledar and could not be moved.
Military analysts question the importance of the city for the Russian army due to its relatively small size. The US-based Institute for the Study of Warfare said that while Russian forces were likely to have taken control of Soledar, it did not believe they could then encircle Bakhmut.
A victory is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin needs, as he has failed to take a single city in Ukraine since July 2022. Since thenthe Moscow forces have suffered a whole series of shameful defeats.
Ukraine’s successful counterattack drove Russia almost completely out of the Kharkiv region in the north-east. In October the Crimean bridge was attacked and Russian forces withdrew from the city of Kherson the following month.
The southern port city had been the only regional capital from which Russia had managed to seize since the invasion began.
The capture of Soledar would be something that Moscow would present as “good news” for the Russian people and the troops on the winter front.
But Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Military Command, denied that Soledar was in Russian hands. “We will not give more details because we do not want to reveal the tactical positions of our fighters,” he added.
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the fighting they had been “hot in Soledar during the night”. The Ukrainian fighters were “valiantly trying to hold the defense,” he added.
In his late-night speech on Thursday, Zelensky described Soledar, Bakhmut and the broader defense of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine as a key issue.
Bid with the Wagner group
Western and Ukrainian officials have said much of the fighting in Soledar and Bakhmut is being carried out by the Wagner group.
Their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a 61-year-old Russian oligarch, has repeatedly claimed in recent days that his forces are the only units on the ground in Soledar. On Tuesday night he said that his mercenaries had taken over the city, something that was contradicted by the Russian Defense Ministry the next morning.
Daily updates from the Russian Defense Ministry make no mention of the Wagner group at all, and Friday’s briefing was no exception. Officials claimed that military paratroopers had played a key role in capturing the city.
Prigozhin then issued a statement saying that he was “surprised” to read the Defense Ministry report. There was “not a single paratrooper” in Soledar, he insisted, showing his anger for “insulting (his) fighters” and “stealing the achievements of others.”
The leader of wagner group He continued to speak publicly this Friday and accused “officials who want to stay in their places” of being the biggest threat to his group’s advance in Ukraine.
In a later statement, the Defense Ministry praised the “courageous and selfless actions” of the mercenaries during the fighting, but again emphasized the leadership role of the official Russian armed forces.
Analysts have long spoken of tensions between the military and the Wagner group. The oligarch has publicly criticized top military leadersincluding General Valery Gerasimov, appointed two days ago as general commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine.
While Russia has mobilized some 300,000 reservists for the war since late September, Prigozhin has sought to recruit more mercenaries from Russian prisons.
Yermak told the French daily the world that Russian criminals had been sent straight to their deaths at the front: “Soledar is a scene of street battles, with neither side actually in control of the city.”