Crescent Kashmir

Russia claims taking Soledar, Ukraine denies takeover

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KRAMATORSK: Russia said on Friday its forces had wrested control of the war-scarred town of Soledar in east Ukraine, its first claim of victory in months of battlefield setbacks, but Ukraine said there was no takeover.

Both sides have conceded heavy losses in the battle for the salt mining outpost, with Moscow desperate to sell any win back home after repeated humiliations and Ukraine determined to hold – and win back – ground.

The Russian defence ministry announced it had “completed the liberation” of Soledar the previous day and that the victory would pave the way for more “successful offensive operations” in the Donetsk region.

Moscow has made the complete capture of Donetsk its primary military objective after it claimed late last year to have annexed the region into Russia.

Kyiv dismissed Russia’s announcement and said “severe fighting” was ongoing in Soledar, where buildings have been reduced to rubble since becoming the war’s epicentre.

“Ukraine’s armed forces have the situation under control in difficult conditions,” Sergiy Cherevaty, a military spokesman said on Ukrainian television.

Moscow’s announcement came as the UN Security Council was preparing to meet to discuss the war.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said earlier that Russia had moved most of its forces around Donetsk to capture Soledar, conceding “this is a difficult phase of the war”.

`Where should we go

In Siversk, a town north of Soledar that could be next in line for the Russian advance, artillery echoed around the battle-scarred buildings dotted with a few remaining residents and Ukrainian military personnel braving light snow and a freezing wind.

Oleksandr Sirenko, who was chopping window frames and floors from destroyed flats into smaller pieces to store in the basement, said he did not want Kyiv’s troops to retreat.

“You know, I’ve been afraid of many things in my life,” he said. “We only hope they don’t retreat. We hope, we hope. We are afraid, but where should we go?”

Wagner group

The Russian mercenary group Wagner claimed that it spearheaded the offensive for Soledar and already announced this week that its forces were controlling it.

But both the Kremlin and the Russian defence ministry said fighting was ongoing at the time, in an indication of infighting.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had earlier vowed that Ukrainian forces defending Soledar and neighbouring Bakhmut would be armed with everything they need to hold the line.

Observers are divided over the strategic significance of Soledar, an industrial town with a pre-war population of 10,000 people.

It could act as a bridgehead for Russia to develop its offensive for Bakhmut, a larger hub that its forces have been attacking for months.

The defence ministry said on Friday that Soledar’s capture “makes it possible to cut off supply routes of Ukrainian troops” there and surround them.

The US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said that Russian forces had likely already captured Soledar on Wednesday.

“But this small-scale victory is unlikely to presage an imminent encirclement of Bakhmut,” it cautioned.

The think tank added that Russian information operations have “overexaggerated” the importance of Soledar.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2023

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