The battle for the city of Soledar in eastern Ukraine has been one of the bloodiest since the start of Moscow’s offensive, which is throwing all its forces there in hopes of returning to victory after several setbacks.
1) Salt mines
Before the conflict, Soledar was a small town of about 10,000 people known primarily for its salt mines. Its name also means “gift of salt” in Ukrainian and Russian.
The Solidar salt mines are the largest in Europe. In particular, they are crossed by 200 kilometers of underground galleries, which will represent many tactical advantages during the war.
2) “Bloody” war»
Russia and Ukraine say fighting in Soledar is particularly fierce. “Everything that is happening today in the direction of Baghmoud or Soledar is a bloody scene of this war,” Myklo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, told AFP on Wednesday.
“A lot of blood, a lot of artillery fights, a lot of contact fights, especially in Solatar,” he listed. Even the Kremlin, generally tight-lipped about military casualties, acknowledged that the Russians had paid a “pretty high price” to advance to Soledar.
3) Russian mercenaries
The battle for Bagmouth, of which only part of Soledar is occupied, is being waged mainly on the Russian side by Wagner’s mercenaries, a paramilitary group led by Evgeny Prigozhin, a prominent businessman close to the Kremlin.
The attack on Soledar is being carried out “exclusively” by Wagner’s men, said Yevgeny Prigojine, who is suspected by analysts of seeking to strengthen his political status in Russia through military victories in Ukraine. The businessman has visited Russian prisons in recent months to recruit inmates, briefly campaigning against promises of higher salaries and amnesty.
Beyond the military aspects, the battles for Soledar and Bakhmout have, according to many analysts, exposed the bitter rivalry between Wagner and the regular Russian army.
On Wednesday, Yevgeni Prigojine announced that his group had taken control of Soledar, an earlier denial by the Russian Defense Ministry that the fighting was still ongoing. Even the Kremlin has called for “no rush” to declare victory.
However, analyst Vasily Kashin points out that the two camps are “cooperating” despite their rivalry. “They can’t do things independently, they’re part of the same force,” he says.
5) Reconnect with success
If analysts deny Solidar’s strategic importance, after suffering spectacular setbacks, Russian officials will no doubt seize the opportunity to score a critical victory. Russian forces have been desperately trying to take Baghmoud for months, sending waves of soldiers to ram into Ukrainian defenses and bombarding the city regularly with artillery.
“Any win is important, especially after not winning for a while,” Kramzikin said of Solader. “Strategically, this will make things easier for Bagmouth,” he adds. The analyst, who requested anonymity, believes taking Soledar is “a tactical victory of little strategic value.” “It will have little impact on the overall situation,” he argues.
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