Ukrainian governor is claiming “huge losses in manpower and ammunition” among Russian forces in Soledar, rebuking claims of Russia’s biggest military advantage since August.
On Wednesday, Donetsk Oblast Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told the Kyiv Independent that Russia’s attempt to take over Soledar, located approximately 10 kilometers north of Bakhmut, has “not succeeded.” The city represents carnage on both sides, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a Monday address, referring to “almost no life left.”
His words contradict an intelligence report published Tuesday by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (U.K. MOD), stating that Russia forces aided by Wagner Group mercenaries headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin “are likely in control” of most of Soledar following four days of fighting in the Donbas city.
Bakhmut Soledar Russia Ukraine War Battles Wagner
A local resident pushes his bicycle past “hedgehog” tank traps, down a street in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on January 6, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia continue to battle in Bakhmut and Soledar, located not far from one another, in what is perceived as a pivotal battle location.
The U.K. MOD reported that Russia’s efforts involve enveloping the city from the north to not only disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication but to focus on salt mine entrances perceived by both sides to allow for further infiltration behind enemy lines.
Kyrylenko said fighting is taking place inside the salt mine but also claimed that other battles are unfolding in the western and northern parts of Soledar.
“The Ukrainian military is fighting for every centimeter (of Donetsk Oblast), including Soledar,” Kyrylenko said.
His statements were echoed by Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, who told the Kyiv Independent on Tuesday that “the approaches to our positions are simply littered with the bodies of dead enemy fighters.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense also denied that it had overtaken Soledar, though state TV commentators remain hopeful for promising results that can boost morale.
“Airborne units blocked Soledar from the north and south,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. “Fighting is ongoing.”
Mikhail Alexseev, a political science professor at San Diego State University, told Newsweek that Russia’s “relentless, brutal attacks” in the Bakhmut area have been a feature of this war for months. It provides a strong incentive for success moving forward considering Ukraine’s resistance to giving up Bakhmut.
“This is one of the best defense strongholds that Ukraine has along all fronts; it was built up in the course of the 2014 Donbas war,” Alexseev said. “Control over Bakhmut gives Russia access to more rapid mass advances, particularly toward Sloviansk and Kramatorsk—the latter being an important industrial center.”
A shift of the Wagner Group forces is part of the equation, he added, as mercenaries are attacking Soledar while the Russian army is more focused on Bakhmut.
“Overall, these operations indicate that the Kremlin intends to keep fighting and keep gaining advantages with the force of numbers,” he said. “This is the kind of strategy that the Kremlin could see lasting many months, if not years, whereby it retains the already occupied territories and keeps slowly occupying new ones.”
“Ukraine’s capacity to defend these areas is significant and Ukraine’s military has been more savvy and efficient deploying troops and fighting, yet it would need significantly more and long-term Western military assistance to hold the line there—not to mention to take any territory back,” he added. “And this is another, strategic aspect of the Russian calculus—betting on the Western support fatigue and pressing advantages over the long term.”
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