After Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group claimed to have taken control of the salt mining town Soledar, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said that Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut and Soledar would be armed with everything to keep Russian troops at bay. “I want to emphasise that the units defending these cities will be provided with ammunition and everything necessary, on time and without interruption,” Zelenskyy said in a statement, according to news agency AFP.
Kyiv had said the troops were battling for controlling the latest industrial towns in the east, which Russian mercenaries claimed to have captured this week.
However, military maps released by Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday did not show Soledar under the control of Moscow’s regular army. Ukraine denied any full takeover as Moscow said the fighting was ongoing.
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Andrey Baevsky, a Russian official in Donetsk, said there were still “small pockets of resistance” from Ukraine inside the city, claiming Russian-backed troops had nearly full control.
While the Kremlin on Thursday praised the “heroic” work by Russian forces working to capture the eastern Donetsk region from Ukraine and on other fronts. “Huge work has been done in Soledar, absolutely selfless heroic actions, not only in Soledar,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is still a lot of work ahead. The main work is yet to come,” he added.
What is the significance of Soledar in the latest campaign?
The capture of Soledar remains a key objective in Russia’s campaign targeting the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine’s larger eastern Donbas region, reported news agency Reuters.
The head of the Wagner Group of pro-Kremlin mercenaries has stressed that the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine is aimed at taking control of “underground cities” that can be used as bases for troops and tanks, according to the Times report.
The strategic move comes after Russian troops were forced to abandon more ambitious goals such as seizing the capital Kyiv.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar said earlier the fight for Soledar was “the fiercest and heaviest” of the war. “Despite the difficult situation, Ukrainian soldiers are fighting stubbornly,” she added.
Both sides have conceded heavy losses in the fight for Soledar and the nearby larger town of Bakhmut, which is also key to Russia’s aim to wrest all of Donetsk away from Ukraine.
The latest development in the war comes amid a major military reshuffle where Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov has been put at the helm of its operations in Ukraine.
A Moscow-based defence analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the move to AFP as “unprecedented” and said it indicated “very serious problems” on the battlefield.
“This has not happened since 1941, when Marshal Georgy Zhukov was sent to the front to command.”
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