KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The fate of a devastated salt mining town in eastern Ukraine hung in the balance Wednesday, as Ukraine said its forces were fighting a furious Russian offensive in one of the latest ground battles, nearly 11. Battle of the Month.
According to military analysts, Ukrainian and Russian forces fought street-to-street to hold or conquer Solader. While the city’s fall is unlikely to provide a turning point in the war, it would be a gift to the Kremlin, which has had no good news from the battlefield in recent months.
This would give Russian troops a strategic boost in their efforts to seize other territories Ukrainian-controlled Donetsk Oblast. Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province, which make up the Donbass region on Russia’s border, have been Moscow’s main targets in its invasion of Ukraine, but the fighting has largely stalled.
Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern forces, said on Wednesday that Russian claims that Soledar had been captured were “untrue,” Ukrainian news agency Suspilne reported.
Cherevaty did not provide any further details, saying that the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine would provide more information later.
The General Staff listed Soledar as the only town and city under constant shelling by Russian forces in its Wednesday morning update.
Late on Tuesday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, said in audio reports posted on his Russian social media site that his soldiers had taken control of the soledar, although he said the fighting continued “in the cauldron”. ” in the center of the city.
The Associated Press could not verify that claim.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that there were “positive dynamics of Russian forces advancing” on Soledar, but he stopped short of announcing its capture when asked about claims that it had come under Russian control.
“Let’s not rush and wait for official statements,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week Incessant shelling and weeks of close-quarters, house-to-house fighting left “everything completely destroyed” in the area.
“The whole land near Soledar is covered with corpses of invaders and scars of strikes,” Zelenskyy said. “This is what madness looks like.”
Known for salt mining and processing, Solitaire has little intrinsic value. But it is at a strategic point about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the city of Baghmut, which Russian forces aim to encircle.
Taking Bakmut would disrupt Ukraine’s supply routes and open the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces to press toward the key Ukrainian strongholds of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk province.
Soledar’s downfall “would be very dangerous for Ukraine to hold the buck,” Michael Goffman, director of Russia studies at the nonprofit research organization CAN in Arlington, Virginia, noted Wednesday.
However, a costly war with expected heavy casualties could make Russia’s victory as costly as defeat.
“Compared to what it would cost to reach Russia, I don’t think Bagmut’s effect is significant,” Goffman said in a tweet.
The Wagner group, which is said to include a large number of criminals recruited in Russian prisons, led the attack on Soledar and Bakmuth.
Western intelligence estimates that the Wagner group comprises up to a quarter of all Russian fighters in Ukraine.
Victory for Soledar and Bakhmut will help Prigozhin, an outspoken critic of Russia’s military leadership, increase his influence in the Kremlin.
Russia illegally annexed Donetsk, Luhansk and two Ukrainian provinces in September, but its troops have struggled to advance. After Ukrainian forces recaptured the southern city of Kherson in November, fighting around Bagmut heated up.
The Institute for Combat Research said Russian forces were up against a “coherent Ukrainian resistance” around Baghmut.
“The reality of block-to-block control of terrain in Soledar is confounded by the dynamic nature of urban warfare … and Russian forces have struggled for months to make significant tactical gains in the Soledar region,” the Washington-based think tank said.
An exceptional aspect of the fighting near Baghmut is that, according to Western intelligence reports, some have taken place around the entrances to disused salt mines that run as far as 200 kilometers (120 miles).
Several leading cities in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces have seen intense fighting in recent months. Putin has identified the Donbass region since the start of the war, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.
By summer Russia had captured almost all of Luhansk. Donetsk escaped the same fate, and the Russian army then poured manpower and resources around Bagmut.
Elsewhere, Zelenskyy traveled to the western city of Lviv on Wednesday to hold a high-level meeting on the security situation near Ukraine’s border with Kremlin ally Belarus, the president’s office said in a statement.
Russia has more than 10,000 troops stationed in Belarus, which shares a roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) border with Ukraine, and conducts regular military exercises in the country. The Kremlin used Belarus as a staging ground to deploy troops and missiles when it invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Concerns have grown in recent months about the Kremlin’s pressure on Belarus to open a new front in western Ukraine, possibly to target supply routes for Western arms. and other foreign aid helped Kiev’s forces mount a defense and mount a counterattack.
Zelensky said he had no immediate concerns about Minsk joining the war, but said “we have to be ready,” according to the report.
Meanwhile, Putin said on Wednesday that Russia had successfully resisted Western pressure, especially economic sanctions, over its aggression in Ukraine and assured the country that it had enough resources to strengthen its military while pursuing social programs and achieving other development goals.
“Nothing our enemies predicted happened,” Putin said in a video call with top members of his cabinet.
“We will strengthen our defense capability and resolve without a doubt all issues related to supplies for military units engaged in special military operations,” he said, using the Kremlin’s phrase for war.
He said Russia received 200 billion rubles (about $3 billion) in additional revenue from higher oil and gas prices caused by the war.
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