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Russia claims capture of Ukraine“s Soledar, but Kyiv says still fighting

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2023-01-13T18:50:55Z

Footage released by Ukraine’s State Border Guard on Thursday (January 12) purported to show Ukrainian servicemen fighting in Soledar, the eastern town Russia claimed to have taken control over on Tuesday (January 10) – something Ukraine refutes.

Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, in what would be a rare success for Moscow after months of battlefield reverses, but Kyiv said its troops were still fighting in the town.

Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in Soledar, a small salt-mining town that has been the focus of relentless Russian assault for days.

Kyiv and the West have played down the town’s significance, saying Moscow sacrificed wave upon wave of soldiers and mercenaries in a pointless fight for a bombed-out wasteland, unlikely to affect the wider war except insofar as the huge losses have sapped manpower on both sides.

But the capture of the town has taken on an outsized importance as it would, if confirmed, give Moscow a trophy for one of the bloodiest campaigns of the war following major battlefield setbacks throughout the second half of 2022.

“The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by assault and army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a grouping of Russian forces,” Moscow’s defence ministry said.

Seizing the town would make it possible to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger nearby city of Bakhmut and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there, it said. Moscow has been trying to seize Bakhmut for months.

But Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern military command, told Reuters by telephone Soledar had not been captured: “Our units are there, the town is not under Russian control.”

CNN said on its website that a reporting team just outside the town could hear mortar and rocket fire on Friday afternoon and saw Ukrainian forces ferrying troops in what appeared to be an organised pullback.

A Ukrainian officer in the area also told Reuters by telephone the Russians had not fully taken the town.

“Last night artillery fire was like from hell, both sides. From what I know, our boys have managed to exit some parts (of Soledar) in an orderly manner and now (assault) groups are counterattacking, but we still hold the town.”

Ukrainian officials said on Thursday that more than 500 civilians, including 15 children, were trapped inside Soledar.

After Ukrainian forces drove Russia into humiliating retreats for much of the second half of 2022, the front lines have barely budged for the past two months. Meanwhile, the battles around Bakhmut and Soledar became what both sides called a “meat grinder” – a brutal war of attrition claiming the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Both Bakhmut and Soledar are in the Donetsk region, which Russia unilaterally claimed to have annexed in September despite only partly occupying it. The capture of the entire region is widely seen as a Kremlin war objective.

Kyiv’s Western allies, however, see it as a fight for marginal gains on a stretch of front where neither side can make a big breakthrough, a sideshow from battles further north and south, where Ukraine hopes to push through Russian lines.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House, “and it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down.”

Within Russia, victory in Soledar could boost ultra-nationalist mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose Wagner Group of fighters-for-hire, including convicts recruited from prison with promises of pardons, has focused on the fight in that area. He has griped as the regular military has taken credit for the Soledar battle without mentioning his fighters.

On Friday evening the defence ministry, which had not mentioned Wagner in its initial communication claiming to have captured Soledar, issued a second statement “to clarify” the situation.

“As for the direct storming of Soledar’s city quarters occupied by the armed forces of Ukraine, this combat task was successfully accomplished by the courageous and selfless actions of volunteers from the Wagner assault detachments,” it said.

The new year has brought important pledges of extra Western weapons for Ukraine, which is seeking armour to mount mechanised battles against Russian tanks.

Major new announcements of weapons are likely next week, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosts defence chiefs from other allies at a U.S. air base in Germany for a meeting of the contact group set up to provide support for Ukraine.

Last week, France, Germany and the United States pledged to send armoured fighting vehicles. Discussion this week has focused on supplying main battle tanks, a major potential upgrade for Kyiv.

On Friday, Finland joined Poland in saying it could send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of a Western coalition apparently being put together to supply them.

That requires the permission of Berlin, which has previously been hesitant but has lately signalled a willingness to allow it. A German government spokesman said on Friday Berlin still had yet to receive any formal request for permission to re-export the tanks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, saying Kyiv’s ties with the West threatened Russia’s security, and Russia has since claimed to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces. Ukraine and its allies call it an unprovoked war to seize territory, and Kyiv says it will fight until it recaptures all its land.

Related Galleries:

Ukrainian serviceman Hryhorii, 42, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade emerges from a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near Soledar, Ukraine, January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Ukrainian army, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade wait in the forest after firing a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near Soledar, Ukraine, January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Ukrainian army, of the 43rd Heavy Artillery Brigade fire a German howitzer Panzerhaubitze 2000, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, near Soledar, Ukraine, January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

A satellite view shows a destroyed school and buildings in south Soledar, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

A rescuer and a dog warm up next to a wood stove inside a State Emergency Service station in the town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 11, 2023. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

A woman warms up inside a State Emergency Service station in the town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 11, 2023. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov attend an annual meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Kuravlev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo

A satellite view shows a smoldering building, in Soledar, Ukraine, January 3, 2023. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

People in military uniform, claimed to be soldiers of Russian mercenary group Wagner and its head Yevgeny Prigozhin, pose for a picture believed to be in a salt mine in Soledar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released January 10, 2023. Press service of “Concord”/Handout via REUTERS

A satellite view shows apartment buildings and homes, in Soledar, Ukraine, August 1, 2022. Satellite image 2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

A satellite view shows destroyed apartment buildings and homes, in Soledar, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. Satellite image ?2023 Maxar Technologies./Handout via REUTERS

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov attends an annual meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2022. Sputnik/Sergei Fadeichev/Pool via REUTERS

A tank fires a round, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this screen grab released on January 8, 2023 and obtained from a social media video by Reuters on January 10, 2023. State Border Guard Service Of Ukraine/via REUTERS/File Photo

An elderly woman walks near debris of a destroyed building purported to be a vocational college used as temporary accommodation for Russian soldiers, dozens of whom were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike as stated previously by Russia’s Defence Ministry, in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Makiivka (Makeyevka), Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Ukrainian members of the military fire an anti-aircraft weapon, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the frontline city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Local residents remove debris and carry belongings out of a shop destroyed in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Local resident Anatoly stands inside his house heavily damaged in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Local residents remove debris and carry belongings out of a shop destroyed in recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, January 10, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Smoke rises from strikes on the frontline city of Soledar, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, as seen from Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

General view of railway lines, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Local residents look through items at a site of the local market, heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Shevchenkove town, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

Ukrainian servicemen stand next to a 2S3 Akatsiya self propelled howitzer at their position in a frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Anna Kudriavtseva

Ukrainian firefighters work at the site of a local market, heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the Shevchenkove town, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Sofiia Gatilova

A firefighter works at a site of a market hit by Russian missiles, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in the town of Shevchenkove, Kharkiv region, Ukraine January 9, 2023. Governor of Kharkiv region Oleh Sunehubov via Telegram/Handout via REUTERS

People return to their shelters after gathering water, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Olha, 60, resident of Soledar waits in a temporary sleeping accommodation before being transported to an evacuation train where she will get out in Dnipro, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

General view of damage from a strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Siversk, Ukraine, January 9, 2023. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


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