Russia says it has taken control of Ukraine’s Soledar, its first victory in months.


Russia forces on the front lines of a bitter battle for control of eastern. Ukraine have claimed their first victory in months of grinding conflict.

After some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Moscow’s defense ministry said on Friday. That its military now controlled the mining town of Soledar in the Donetsk region. Although Ukrainian officials denied the town had fallen. NBC News has not verified the veracity of either side’s claims.

Soledar’s capture would represent a morale-boosting breakthrough for the Kremlin. After a long setback on the battlefield and rare signs of unrest. At home ahead of the war’s one-year anniversary.

Russia may also be one step closer to taking Bakhmut. A nearby city that has been devastated by sustained shelling. And street fighting but remains an important national symbol of Ukrainian defiance.

Fighting in the area is notable for the prominent role played. By mercenary fighters of the Wagner clan.

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President. Vladimir Putin, has become at war in recent months. Behind vocal criticism of the Kremlin’s military leaders.

He claimed victory in Soledar earlier this week. And boasted on social media that his forces were in sole charge of the city. But Russia’s Defense Ministry stopped short of announcing. The news and made no mention of the Wagner fighters’ role.

Moscow finally said in a statement early Friday that it had captured the city.

“On the evening of January 12, the liberation of the city of Soledar was completed. Which is important for continuing the successful offensive from the Donetsk side.” Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.

But Kiev pushed back. Serhii Cherevati, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army’s Eastern Group. Said in an interview that the claim was not true. And that fighting was still ongoing in Soledar early Friday.

The head of the local Ukrainian administration, Pavlo Kirilenko. Said earlier this week that only 500 people remained in the town, most of them elderly.

Why it matters

The status of Soledar – known for its extensive underground tunnels. And salt mines – remained unclear for days.

The city is located in eastern Donetsk region. One of four that Putin claimed to annex last year despite failing to control it. After the Russian retreat from Kherson to the south. The focus of the war shifted eastward through. The winter to waves of Russian offensives and artillery battles against Ukrainian positions.

Analysts said the capture of Soledar would serve a military purpose. While not constituting a turning point in the war. It may also serve a personal goal of strengthening Prigogine’s growing reputation.

Although it has little internal value, Soledar is located. At a strategic point about 6 miles north of Bakhmut, which Russian forces aim to encircle.

Taking Bakhmut could disrupt Ukrainian supply lines. And open a path for Russian forces to push toward Kramatorsk. And Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province.

“The salt mines are located in important underground tunnels. There is a 200 kilometer (124 mile) tunnel network in the area. British intelligence has found, and they say these tunnels are a battlefield. Anyone who takes them can infiltrate behind enemy lines. Can,” Samuel Ramani, an expert on politics. And international relations at the University of Oxford, said in an interview.

“The next step would be to advance to Bakhmut. But they have to surround the city and they’re still having trouble with that.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, said in its latest daily briefing that. “Russian forces are unlikely to control most of the Soledar.”

But this is “not an significant development. And unlikely to lead to an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut,” it added.

And even if Russian forces take Bakhmut. Many analysts are unsure whether it will prove a turning point.

“Capturing Soledar, or even Bakhmut, will not compensate for the damage Russian has done. Including the loss of Kherson,” said Michael Horowitz. Head of intelligence at Le Becque International Security Consultancy.

Speaking at a press briefing at the White House on Thursday. National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby highlighted the significance of the fight.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians … it will not have a strategic impact on the war itself,” he said.

“And it won’t slow down the Ukrainians in their efforts to stop or reclaim their territory.”

The true value of catching soledar may not be on the battlefield.

“the value of cities like Bakhmut or Soledar is much more symbolic,” Horowitz said.

“Russian has been sending waves of troops to capture these cities for months. And they have become important for what. They represent far more than their true military value. Bakhmut is a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. A symbol Zelensky made several visits to before flying to Washington a few weeks ago. A symbol  would very much like to crush,” Horowitz said.

That the Soledar operation was at least carried out by mercenaries. Many of whom are serving criminal sentences, rather than regular Russian soldiers. “Tells you everything you need to know about the state of the Russian military,” he said.

“The calculus is that these mercenaries are expendable. Their losses don’t carry the same internal costs as regular soldiers,” Horowitz added.

As for Prigogine, “He’s definitely trying to take credit for it. He wants to improve his position ,” Ramani said.

Wagner’s chief complained Friday that the regular military took credit for Soledar. And did not mention his fighters.

“They are trying to steal the victory from the Wagner PMC. And talk about its presence to those who are vague to belittle their competence.” He said, a sign that even battlefield progress may not end Russia’s internal strife. .

As the war in Ukraine approaches. Its first anniversary on February 24, attention shifts to who.

Kiev argues that it cannot win without heavy artillery. And tank reinforcements from its Western allies. Moscow says it is moving ahead with planning its “special military operations”. Despite reports of plain progress after replacing the commander. Its forces in Ukraine on Wednesday after three months in charge.

“Ukraine is currently back on the defensive, which means it’s fighting on Russia’s terms. That’s why Kiev needs more offensive weapons, to take back the initiative. Which they’ve done quite several times. War,” Horowitz said.

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