Russia claims the capture of Solidar in a major battlefield gain
Russia claimed on Friday that its forces captured the salt-mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine overnight after days of sustained fighting, claiming Moscow made its first major battlefield gains after half a year of military setbacks.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in the town. Kyiv said earlier on Friday that fighting was still going on there after what it called a “hot” night.
Russia said the capture of Solidar would make it possible to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger neighboring city of Bakhmut and trap the remaining Ukrainian forces there. Russia has been trying to control Bakhmut for months in a fierce war.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that “the capture of Solidar became possible due to the continuous bombing of the enemy by offensive, army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a group of Russian forces.”
Kyiv says Russia has thrown wave upon wave of soldiers and mercenaries into a pointless battle for the bombarded wasteland of Solidar, and American officials have said a Russian victory there, or even at Bakhmut, would make little difference to the overall war.
Solidar, which had a pre-war population of just 10,000, sits atop the cavernous salt mines. Bakhmut, ten times larger, is a large regional center.
“Even if both Bakhmut and Solidar fell to the Russians, it would not have a strategic impact on the war itself,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Thursday. To stop the Ukrainians or slow them down.”
The ultra-nationalist mercenary firm Wagner, run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin, claimed to have seized Solidar on Wednesday, but Russia’s Defense Ministry has so far remained silent.
“The night in Solidar was hot, and the fights continued,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
“The enemy has thrown almost all the main forces in the direction of Donetsk and maintains a high offensive intensity. Our fighters are trying bravely to maintain their defense,” she said, referring to the Donetsk region that includes Solidar.
“This is a difficult stage of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt.”
Outside Solidar on Thursday, Ukrainian soldiers dug in well-fortified trenches in the wintry forest. Explosions echoed in the distance.
A 24-year-old soldier using the call sign BUK told Reuters that the intensity of the shelling had increased by about 70 percent, but that the forces were still holding their positions.
“The situation is difficult, but stable. We thwart the enemy… We are fighting.”
Ukrainian officials said on Thursday that more than 500 civilians are trapped inside Solidar, including 15 children.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a video address at night, thanked two units in Solidar that he said were “holding their positions and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy”. He did not give more details.
The front lines in Ukraine have barely retreated in the two months since Russia’s last major retreat in the south. Meanwhile, the battles around Bakhmut and Solidar became what both sides called a “meat grinder” – a brutal war of attrition that claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers needed for future decisive battles.
The new year saw important pledges to provide additional Western weapons to Ukraine, which is seeking armor to fight automatic battles against Russian tanks. Last week, France, Germany and the United States pledged to send armored fighting vehicles.
In recent days, the focus has been on main battle tanks, which Western countries have not yet provided. Finland on Friday joined Poland in promising to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of a Western alliance. This requires permission from Berlin, which has so far been reluctant but has recently shown its willingness to allow it.
Putin launched the invasion on February 24, saying that Kyiv’s relations with the West threatened Russia’s security, and Russia has since claimed to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces. Ukraine and its allies have described it as an unjustified war to seize territory, and Kyiv says it will fight until it regains all its territory.