Kyiv, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces have conducted an organized withdrawal from a city in the eastern Donbass region, official confirmed Wednesday, marking a rare but modest battlefield triumph for the Kremlin after a series of setbacks in its incipient invasion equals almost 11 months ago. The Ukrainian army withdrew from the salt mining town of Soledar to “save the lives of personnel,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces in the east, told The Associated Press.
The soldiers retreated to previously prepared defensive positions, he said.
Moscow has presented the battle for Soledar, which is near the town of Bakhmut, as the key to conquering the entire Donbass. But while the performance brings Russian forces a step closer to Bakhmut, military analysts have said that the capture of Soledar is more symbolic than strategic for Moscow.
The Ukrainian military, which had withstood a month-long attack by superior Russian forces at Soledar, said its fierce defense of the eastern fortress helped tie down Russian forces.
Russia claimed almost two weeks ago that it had taken Soledar, but Ukraine denied it.
Russia’s Wagner mercenaries wage bloody battle in eastern Ukraine 02:18
Many of the Russian troops surrounding Soledar belong to the private Russian military company Wagner Group, and the fighting was reportedly bloody.
Since invading Ukraine, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of the Donbas – a region made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has captured most of Luhansk, but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control.
Control of Soledar would potentially allow Russian forces to cut supply lines to Ukrainian forces at Bakhmut, although the strength of Ukraine’s new defensive positions was unknown.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said earlier this month that the fall of Soledar “will not mark an operationally significant development and is not likely to predict an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”
Ukrainian soldiers work on trenches in a field near Soledar in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region January 14, 2023 amid the Russian invasion. ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty
The institute said Russian intelligence operations had “exaggerated the importance of Soledar, a small settlement.” It has also been argued that the long and difficult battle contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.
tanks on the way
Perhaps even more worrying for Moscow is that Western military aid to Ukraine is now being stepped up with the supply of tanks. After weeks of pressure from European allies and Washington, Germany confirmed on Wednesday that it would send some of its own Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine and also pave the way for other EU countries to send Leopard 2s into their stockpiles.
US ready to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine 00:23
The US is also ready to send Abrams M1 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but officials told CBS News they are likely months away from actually being used on the battlefield, while European nations are rapidly deploying Leopard 2s in Ukraine be able.
Russian forces continue to attack Ukrainian areas, particularly in the south and east. Russian attacks wounded 10 civilians in the eastern province of Donetsk on Tuesday, provincial governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Five were injured when Russian shells hit apartment blocks, he said.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russian forces launched four rocket attacks, 26 airstrikes and more than 100 rocket salvo attacks in the past 24 hours.
According to spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun, Russian forces are concentrating their efforts on gaining control of Donetsk province and are conducting offensive operations around the embattled towns of Bakhmut, Lyman and Avdiivka and the village of Novopavlivka.
In addition to Donetsk, the Russian attacks also hit settlements in the north-east of the country in Kharkiv and Sumy, in the north of Chernihiv, in eastern-most Luhansk, in the south-east of Zaporizhia and in the southern provinces of Kherson.