Russia says it has captured the town of Soledar, which Ukraine denies

Rocket launched by Ukrainian service personnel
Ukrainian forces launch rockets at Russian positions on the front line near the embattled town of Soledar, which Moscow claims to have captured.

Russia claimed Friday that its forces have captured a fiercely contested salt-mining town, in what would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities said the fight for Soledar continued.

Moscow has painted the battles for the town and nearby city of Bakhmut as key to capturing the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine — and also as a way to grind down the best Ukrainian forces and prevent them from launching counterattacks elsewhere. But that cuts both ways, with Ukraine saying that its fierce defense of the eastern strongholds has helped tie up Russian forces.

Western officials and analysts say the two towns’ importance after months of bloody fighting is more symbolic than strategic.


Since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of the Donbas, made up of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where it has backed a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has seized most of Luhansk, but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukraine’s control.

There have repeatedly been conflicting reports over who controls Soledar. The Associated Press could not independently confirm either side’s claim.

“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed in the evening of Jan. 12,” Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region.”

Russian forces are escalating their onslaught on Bakhmut, bringing new levels of death and devastation to the already-wrecked city in east Ukraine.

Jan. 10, 2023

Taking control of Soledar would allow Russian forces “to cut supply lines for the Ukrainian forces” in Bakh- mut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there,” Konashenkov said.

But Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army in the east, denied the town had fallen, telling the AP “there are still Ukrainian units in Soledar.”


And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Friday, “The tough battle for Donetsk continues. The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages in the east of our state continues.”

Zelensky told the Lithuanian Parliament earlier in the day that Kyiv did not intend to give any “breathing space” to Russian forces, and that the coming months will be “decisive” in Ukraine’s fight to defend itself.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said the fall of Soledar wouldn’t mark “an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”

The think tank said that Russian information operations have “over-exaggerated the importance of Soledar,” a small settlement, arguing as well that the long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.

Armored vehicles from the U.S. and Germany, including 50 tank-killing Bradleys, should expand Ukraine’s ability to move troops to the front lines.

Jan. 10, 2023

White House National Security Council spokesman John F. Kirby on Thursday also downplayed the significance of potential Russian gains in the area.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians ... it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” Kirby said. “And it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in terms of their efforts to regain their territory.”

Just hours before Russia’s claim, Ukraine reported that there had been a heavy night of fighting.

In a Telegram post early Friday, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said that Moscow “had sent almost all [its] main forces” to secure a victory in the east.

“This is a difficult stage of the war, but we will win,” Maliar added.

A Ukrainian officer, who asked for anonymity for security reasons, previously told the AP that in the battle for Soledar, the Russians have first sent in soldiers, many from the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group, who take heavy casualties but exhaust the Ukrainian defenders. Then the Russians send in a wave of highly trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces, the officer said.

Konashenkov said that the storming of Soledar became possible thanks to massive air and artillery strikes and airborne troops’ maneuvers to envelop the city.

He didn’t mention the Wagner Group, which previously took credit for capturing Soledar.

There have been signs of tensions between the Russian army and the Wagner Group, led by millionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin.

After Prigozhin angrily accused the Defense Ministry on Friday of “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s victory,” the Defense Ministry changed course and acknowledged the group’s “courageous and selfless action” to capture Soledar.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian central security agency announced Friday that it is holding counter-sabotage exercises along a section of the border with Belarus.

The move comes amid heightened concern about Belarus’ possible involvement in the war. The country has provided a base for about 10,000 Russian soldiers, and the two countries are to conduct joint military air exercises next week.