‘Fighting, bloody battles’: Russia’s ‘crazy’ fight for Soledar | Russo-Ukrainian War

Ukraine and Russia are locked in an information war as well as a deadly struggle on the ground in Soledar, a salt mining town in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, at the end of the 46th week of the war.

The Wagner Corporation mercenaries fought to capture Soledar for weeks in an apparent attempt to encircle Bakhmut, 10 kilometers (four miles) to the south, which has been the focus of Russian offensive operations since. September.

Founder Wagner Yevgeny Prigozhin declared his forces successful – even as he insisted the battle continued.

“The units of Wagner PMC have taken control of the entire territory of Soledar. A cauldron has been formed in the center of the city, in which urban battles are taking place,” he said, using a popular Russian military term for a land of defenders.

“I would like to emphasize that no units other than Wagner PMC fighters participated in the attack on Soledar,” said Prigozhin, who recently highlighted the role his 50,000 mercenaries play against the units. regular army.

Prigozhin publish a photo His own is said to have taken in the Soledar salt mine, standing next to the Wagner warriors.

A few hours later, Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesperson forces of eastern Ukraine, denied the fall of Soledar and called Prigozhin’s photo propaganda.

The Ukrainian armed forces said: “It seems that Prigozhin’s position does not correspond to reality,” calling the photo a psychological operation “aimed at an internal audience in order to somehow justify the the frenzied losses of prisoners” – a reference to Wagner’s far-reaching vision. recruiting prisoners.

A similar incident took place the day before, when military reporters posted geolocation footage of Russian soldiers in the center of Soledar, declaring that the city had fallen. The British defense intelligence confirmed that Russian forces had captured most of the town.


But Prigozhin himself denied it those reports. “In the western suburbs of Soledar, heavy bloody battles are taking place. The Ukrainian Armed Forces honorably defend the territory of Soledar,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

The battle for Soledar was intense on the night of 5 January, when Wagner’s forces were first reported to have breached the Ukrainian defenses. By December 9, Russia’s Rybar news service reported that Russian forces had surrounded Soledar from the northeast, capturing the villages of Podgorodny, Bakhmutsky, Krasnaya Gora and Paraskovievka.

Cherevaty spoke of “very brutal, bloody battles”.

Analysts say Soledar’s strategic value is low. “Russian forces are still far from being within striking distance of an operational siege of Bakhmut,” wrote the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), as they will have to reach two important highways behind Ukrainian lines.

“Considering that the recent rate of increase in this area has been several hundred meters per day at most, it is highly unlikely that Russian forces will succeed in combining a mechanized force towards these areas. [areas],” said ISW.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said a victory in Soledar would “make no sense” strategically for Russia.

“For the Russians there are no strategic goals. It’s an open space and our locations are more favorable. We see a completely irresponsible attitude – to put it mildly – ​​from the Russian elite towards their own servicemen, who are dying thousands there,” Podolyak said.


‘Central Dilemma’

While attention is focused on Soledar, whose demise will be the first time Russia has captured a town since Lysychansk last July, Ukrainian troops have seized territory further north in Luhansk .

Ukrainian forces captured Pidkuichanskonly eight kilometers (three miles) northwest of Svatove, and geolocation battles indicated they had moved within 17 kilometers (six miles) of nearby Kreminna, confirming that they were occupying land. .

Ukraine’s threat to these towns is a problem for Moscow’s planners, British military intelligence reports, because Russia is also beefing up its defenses in the southern Zaporizhia region, fear a Ukrainian counterattack against Melitopol.

“Determining which of these threats to prioritize can be one of the main dilemmas for Russian operations planners,” a British intelligence assessment said.

Ukraine’s movement on two fronts led to its successes in Kharkivin the north and Khersonin the south, last year.

Weapons, weapons, weapons

Ukraine has called for more heavy armor, long-range weapons and air defense systems to end the war.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has assessed that political support among the allies will not last another winter.

“It is necessary to end Russia’s aggression this year and not delay any defensive opportunity that can accelerate the process of defeating the terrorist state,” he said, referring to military aid.

His director of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said Ukraine will launch a major counter-offensive in the coming months as winter ends and that fighting is expected to be “hottest” in March.

“This is going to happen all over Ukraine from Crimea to the Donbas,” he said, using the generic term for Donetsk and Luhansk.

The commander of the Ukrainian armed forces, Valery Zaluzhny, said last month that despite Ukraine’s limited resources, the army planned to capture Melitopol, in the Zaporizhia region, to reach the Azov coast.

From there, it could effectively cut off Russia from Crimea by firing at Kerch bridge. But it remains unclear whether Ukraine has a stockpile of manpower and weapons trained to do so.

Ukraine received some welcome reinforcements in its 46th week. France said it was preparing to send 50 AMX-10RC and Bastion APC light armored vehicles to Ukraine, violating the taboo on sending vehicles. military of the West. On the same day, US President Joe Biden confirmed that the US would send 50 Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

The next day, Germany announced that it would provide Ukraine with about 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and a battery of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles.

Security analysts told Al Jazeera that while welcome, these commitments are small.

“It is not serious to say that these numbers will upset the situation… Neither the number nor the type of vehicles are sufficient – ​​these are not tanks, they are light vehicles,” said Lieutenant General Konstantinos Loukopoulos, retired, the Greek military said. Army, who taught tank warfare at military academies in Kiev and Moscow.

“They are enough to arm a little less than two battalions. If the Allies really want to protect Ukraine, they need to give them ATACMS [long-range artillery rockets]at least another 1.5 million 155mm rounds and 700-800 tanks,” said Loukopoulos.

Last September, Zaluzhny estimated he needed 15-20 mechanized brigades to retake Luhansk and Donetsk. Ideally, says Loukopoulos, 70,000-80,000 new troops with 1,500 tanks and many armored fighting vehicles.

‘Not entirely honest’

Other experts agreed. Retired Major General Mick Ryan called all three types of vehicles that France, the United States and Germany are providing aid “top” with “very good optical systems and digital communications”, but warned of attrition rates in war is very high, and “hundreds of each” vehicles will be needed.

Ryan also pointed out that allies will now have to scale up the artillery, logistics, and scene equipment that commandos use relative to armored fighting vehicles.

Strategy professor Phillips O’Brien wrote on Substack, “Modern industrial warfare requires top-of-the-line equipment and far better trained soldiers than a mass of poorly motivated conscripts.”

However, Ukraine’s allies have refrained. Germany objected to the donation of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, let alone Marders, and France did not donate its Leclerc tanks. Only the UK is rumored to be considering donating just a dozen Challenger tanks.

“The US has 3,000 spare Bradleys. Why doesn’t it give them away?” Loukopoulos asked. “The attitude towards Ukraine is not entirely honest.”

Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said time is not on Ukraine’s side.

“For Putin, failure is not an option,” they wrote in the Washington Post. On the other hand, allowing Russia to hold Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea “provides future starting points for new attacks aimed at capturing the rest of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast…whenever they are ready. … is unacceptable,” Rice and Gates said.

They support arming Ukraine to fend off Russian attacks and help it regain lost territory, with NATO allies providing heavy weapons, including Abrams tanks, the name long-range fire, drones, surveillance equipment and ammunition “in weeks, not months”.


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