Soledar: Russia declares victory in the conflict for the salt mine town in Ukraine
After a protracted fight, the Russian military claims to have taken control of the Ukrainian salt-mine town of Soledar, describing it as a "significant" milestone in its offensive.
According to a spokeswoman, the win would enable Russian troops to advance to the adjacent city of Bakhmut and cut off the Ukrainian forces there.
Moscow made a message that was both incredibly confident and ambitious.
Officials from Ukraine, however, claimed that the battle for Soledar was still ongoing and blamed Russia for "information noise."
One of the bloodiest battles of the conflict was the one for Soledar.
With a pre-war population of only 10,000, the town is quite small, and its strategic importance is up for debate. But if it is determined that Russian soldiers have taken possession of it, the Kremlin will probably breathe a sigh of relief.
Throughout the conflict, differences between the infamous Russian Wagner paramilitary group and the regular Russian forces have appeared, and a bitter turf war has developed about who should claim credit for the advance.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky stated this week that hardly any walls in Soledar are still standing. He spoke of the neighboring countryside as being scarred by missile attacks and covered in Russian bodies, painting pictures that were nearly post-apocalyptic.
Andriy Yermak, his chief of staff, compared the conflict between Soledar and Bakhmut to one of the bloodiest battles of World War One, at Verdun.
As of Thursday, 559 residents, including 15 children, were still residing in Soledar and could not be relocated, according to regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
Military commentators contest the town's significance for the Russian military due to its tiny size. Though it was likely that Russian forces had taken Soledar, the US-based Institute for the Study of War stated that it did not expect they would then be able to encircle Bakhmut.
But if it turns out that Russia has it, that will be viewed in Moscow as a victory or at least progress.
President Vladimir Putin needs that badly because, since July 2022, Russia has been unable to annex even a single town in Ukraine. Moscow's soldiers have now suffered a string of humiliating losses.
The effective Ukrainian counterattack drove Russia nearly entirely out of the northeastern Kharkiv region. Following an attack on the Kerch bridge in Russia in October, Russian forces withdrew from Kherson the following month.
Since the invasion's start, Russia had only been able to conquer the regional capital of the southern port city.
Moscow would be able to depict the capture of Soledar as "positive news" to the Russian people and the soldiers on the icy front line.
The eastern military leadership of Ukraine's Serhiy Cherevatyi, however, disputed that Soledar was in Russian hands: "We won't disclose any further specifics as we do not want to reveal the tactical positions of our forces."
Hanna Malyar, the deputy defense minister, reported that fighting had been "intense in Soledar overnight." In a challenging phase of the conflict, Ukrainian fighters were "bravely striving to hold the defense," she continued.
In his nighttime address late on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky cited Soledar, Bakhmut, and the broader defense of the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine as the most important issues.
According to Western and Ukrainian officials, the notoriously violent Wagner mercenary squad is responsible for a large portion of the combat near Soledar and Bakhmut.
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