February 7, 2023

Russia says it seized Solidar, Ukraine denies it captured it

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Russia claimed on Friday that its forces had captured the hotly contested salt-mining city, in what marked a rare victory for the Kremlin after a string of setbacks. in its war in Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities said the fight over Solidar continues.

Moscow painted the battles for the city and neighboring Bakhmut as key to capturing the entire eastern region of Donbass. — and also as a means of crushing the best Ukrainian forces and preventing them from launching counterattacks elsewhere. But that cuts both ways, and Ukraine has said its fierce defense of its eastern strongholds has helped constrain Russian forces.

Since invading Ukraine on February 24, Moscow has prioritized taking full control of Donbass – a region consisting of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces where it has supported a separatist insurgency since 2014. Russia has captured most of Luhansk, but about half of Donetsk remains under Ukrainian control.

There have been frequently conflicting reports about who controls Solidar, as a bloody battle has raged for months. The Associated Press could not independently confirm either side’s claim.

“The liberation of the town of Solidar was completed on the evening of January 12,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in Donetsk.” Area.”

Konashenkov said that taking the town would allow Russian forces to “cut off the supply lines of Ukrainian forces” in Bakhmut and then “close and encircle Ukrainian units there”.

But Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military in the east, denied the Russian defense ministry’s claim, telling the Associated Press that “there are still Ukrainian units in Solidar”.

Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, noted that the fall of Solidar would not represent “an operationally significant development and is unlikely to herald an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut”.

The institute said Russian media operations had “overestimated the importance of Solidar,” a small settlement, arguing that the long and difficult battle contributed to the exhaustion of the Russian forces.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday also downplayed potential Russian gains in the region.

“Even if both Bakhmut and Solidar fell to the Russians…it wouldn’t have a strategic effect on the war itself,” Kirby said. “And it certainly won’t stop or slow down the Ukrainians in terms of their efforts to reclaim their land.”

Just hours before Russia’s claim, Ukraine reported that there had been a heavy night of fighting but did not acknowledge the loss of the city.

Early Friday, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, said in a post on Telegram that Moscow had “sent almost all of its main forces” to secure victory in the east.

This is a difficult stage of the war, but we will win. Maliar added, “There is no doubt.

A former Ukrainian officer told the AP that in the Battle of Solidar, the Russians first sent in soldiers, many from Russia’s private military contractor group Wagner, who took heavy losses but exhausted the Ukrainian defenders. The Ukrainian officer, who insisted on anonymity for security reasons, said the Russians then sent another wave of highly trained soldiers, paratroopers or special forces.

Konashenkov said that the storming of Solidar was made possible by massive air and artillery strikes and maneuvers of the airborne forces to encircle the city. He does not mention the Wagner Group, which has previously taken credit for the Solidar takeover. There were signs of stress Between the military and the Wagner group led by the millionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin angrily accused the Defense Ministry on Friday of “constantly trying to steal Wagner’s win”.

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Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine