For the past six months, the war in Ukraine has been marked by Russia’s inability to gain ground. In the east of the country, Kremlin forces in the cities of Kharkov and Izium gave in to the Ukrainian counteroffensive; in the south they lost control of Kherson. On January 6, President Vladimir Putin made his first breakthrough since the summer: he was able to advance to a small town in Donbass. Control of much of Soledar’s territory, which had a pre-war population of about 10,000, paves the way for the city of Bakhmut, seven times more populous.
The capture of Soledar was brought within reach of Russian forces thanks to a Ukrainian blunder. On January 6, Wagner’s mercenaries took advantage of Putin’s unilateral ceasefire on Orthodox Christmas Eve for a surprise attack. On the opposing side, they found two inexperienced infantry brigades unable to stop the onslaught. A single day was enough for Wagner’s mercenaries to occupy a large part of the city.
While analysts agree that recent Russian developments could help increase Russia’s pressure on Bakhmut, Soledar’s accumulated attrition is limiting room for maneuver on either side. In the past week there have only been marginal changes in the Russian controlled areas east and south of the settlement. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on January 13 that its forces had taken Soledar, a key Donetsk city for supplying Ukrainian troops on the Eastern Front. However, the Kiev Army denied the loss of the city.
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According to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the establishment of a full-scale siege of the city of Bakhmut by Kremlin troops is not imminent.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner Group, also admitted on Thursday that capturing this new military target will not be possible in the short term. “The Ukrainian army works clearly and harmoniously. We can learn a lot from them,” he admitted in statements released by his press service.
Contributed to this story Christian Seura.
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