The situation in Soledar, in Donetsk region has grown critical. As of January 13, the hottest phase of the battle for Soledar is raging. There have been conflicting statements on who controlled the town. Ukrainian military officials say that Soledar is not controlled by the Russian forces.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed its forces had taken complete control of Soledar on the evening of January 12. Control of Soledar could allow Russia to cut off Ukrainian supply lines to nearby Bakhmut and encircle the Ukrainian troops there, Russian sources said.
Analysis by Institute for the Study of War
Geolocated footage posted on January 11 and 12 indicates that Russian forces likely control most if not all of Soledar, and have likely pushed Ukrainian forces out of the western outskirts of the settlement, the Institute for the Study of War said in a report published on January 13. Russian forces’ likely capture of Soledar on January 11 is not an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut, the report reads.
What Ukraine’s General Staff says
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces posted a video from a soldier, call sign Madyar, purportedly participating in the battle for Soledar, claiming that the Ukrainian troops were holding defense of the city and “fierce fighting” was still ongoing as of 2:13pm local time Friday.
His unit is deployed to the center of Soledar, he said. The Russians tried to bypass the town, but as the Ukrainian troops pushed them back, they retreated.
“The Ukrainian Armed Forces are holding a dense and solid defense line. Yes, the assault units of Wagner attack non-stop (…). But we don’t give a [expletive] about their plans. We are doing our job. We do it well, and we’ll do it till the end. (…) Please be patient,” he said.
CNN reports on the ground
A CNN team outside Soledar reported seeing Ukrainian forces ferry troops out, in what appears to be a fairly organized pull-back. There is no sense of panic among Ukrainian troops, CNN’s Ben Wedeman said.
Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to make a strategic impact on the war itself. And it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in terms of their efforts to regain their territory, U.S. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said in a news conference.
Fighting remains intense where the battle of Soledar has been waged. “We expect that to continue. There will continue to be incremental gains and losses, we expect, by both sides,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on January 12.
Wagner chief Prigozhin at odds with Russia’s military officials
While there is no final clarity on control of Soledar, stakeholders in Russia are fighting to appropriate the alleged gain. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said that “they constantly steal victory” from his mercenary group, as Russia’s Defense Ministry made no mention of Wagner contributions in its statement claiming capture of Soledar.
“Significant damage to PMC [private military contractor] Wagner can be caused by our intraspecific struggle, corruption, bureaucracy and officials who want to stay in their places. This is a more serious threat to PMC Wagner,” Prigozhin said on Telegram.
Media are being banned from mentioning PMC Wagner, he added. They are instructed to “avoid it like the plague,” he said.
“They constantly steal victory from Wagner PMC and talk about the presence of someone who is not clear, just to belittle their merits,” Prigozhin said on Telegram.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said the Wagner group “need to deliver some kind of proof to declare they’re better than the regular armed forces of the Russian Federation”. Mr Prigozhin is believed to have made the capture of Soledar and Bakhmut a personal goal.
Advisor to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter: “A public rumble started between a Russian fake news agency (MoD) and military-criminal ultras (Prigozhin/Zolotov/Surovikin) about who is fighting better on the 11th month of the 3-day war and who will sow Soledar with their corpses the most. A good sign of the beginning of the stunning end!”
U.S. ongoing support of Ukraine. Ukraine in Flames #309
The US has by far provided the most military assistance to Ukraine, more than every other country combined. The continuing support of the USA allowed Ukrainian Armed Forces to not just defend our territory from russian aggression but de-occupy cities and villages that were captured in the first months of war. Watch Ukraine in Flames #309 to find out about the future of US support to Ukraine and what assistance awaits us in 2023.
- John Herbst, former U.S Ambassador to Ukraine
- Valeriy Chaly, Chairman of the Board of Ukraine Crisis Media Center, Ambassador of Ukraine to the USA (2015-2019), Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine