Is The Battle For Soledar A ‘Trap’ For Russian Forces?

Is The Battle For Soledar A ‘Trap’ For Russian Forces?

As Moscow’s forces advance, Russia and Ukraine continue to contest control of the salt mining town of Soledar amid scenes of destruction and fierce fighting on the front line in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has made multiple claims of control in the past week, which have been disputed by Ukrainian officials, who say their forces have not left the city and are still fighting. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed on January 13 that it had captured Soledar, but the claim was quickly disputed by Kiev, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying the fight for the city and others “to the east of our country continues”.

Radio Free Europe could not independently verify the situation, but multiple reports from Russian war correspondents and bloggers, who have shared their location via the Telegram messaging platform, suggest that Russian forces have taken almost all of Soledar. Ukrainian forces, however, appear to be continuing to hold ground on the northwestern edge of the city, with Ukraine’s 46th Air Assault Brigade saying the fighters were surrounded but fighting back.

Speaking to Current Time, a Russian-language network run by Radio Free Europe in cooperation with the Voice of America, Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of a battalion in the Ukrainian National Guard, said heavy fighting in Soledar has already destroyed a large part of the city and surroundings. area, but Ukrainian forces were determined to “knock out” the Russians from their positions.

“Soledar is now just a few square kilometers of burnt land and some fields,” Nazarenko from Donetsk said in an interview. “It seems that there are no bachelors [intact] the building is gone.”

Military analysts question the strategic value of nearby Soledar or Bakhmut, which has also been the site of some of the most intense fighting in the war in recent weeks. However, a Russian advance would be welcome news for the Kremlin after a string of embarrassing setbacks and Russian forces unable to capture a single city in Ukraine since July 2022.

Amid the push on the ground, battles for both countries have killed thousands of soldiers from each side. Nazarenko suggests that any Russian gains on the eastern front would be a Pyrrhic victory because of how difficult it would be for Moscow to sustain any progress after such heavy losses.

“Our task is to exhaust the enemy,” Nazarenko said. “Bakhmut and the Bakhmut leadership were a kind of trap for the enemy… Sooner or later, they will run out of steam.”

A ‘bloodbath’

Both Soledar and Bakhmut have been at the center of an artillery battle since late summer, and Ukrainian officials have described waves of Russian soldiers going on a rampage to take the sites.

While Ukrainian officials have said the battles for Soledar and Bakhmut are part of a strategy to overrun and inflict disproportionate losses on Russian forces, the fighting has also absorbed thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who could be deployed elsewhere.

Barely any walls in Soledar remain standing, Zelenskiy said during a speech to the nation on January 13, in which he described grim scenes of rocket attacks and streets littered with corpses.

Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, compared the fighting to that at Verdun, the longest battle of World War I. Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko called the area a “blood bath”.

Russian and Ukrainian officials say they are evacuating civilians/ Kyrylenko said only about 600 residents remain in Soledar compared to a pre-war population of more than 10,000. Multiple Russian news agencies have reported that their forces have already evacuated 170 people from neighboring towns and villages to positions held further east in the occupied territory.

While analysts continue to question the strategic importance of the pitched battles for Soledar and Bakhmut, Russia has invested heavily in trying to take the eastern cities, which hold symbolic value for the Kremlin amid poor battlefield results.

According to a January 13 analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, it appeared that Russian forces would be able to control Soledar, but the heavy casualties suffered would make it “impossible to predict a imminent Russian siege of Bakhmut.”

Tensions between Russia’s factions

The battle at Soledar has also exposed the divisions between her regular forces and the Wagner mercenary group.

Vagner has led a months-long push to capture Soledar and the neighboring town of Bakhmut, which would be a symbolic victory for the mercenary group and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Many analysts have suggested that Prigozhin hopes to strengthen his political position in Moscow and secure a public relations victory in the process by showing that his forces are able to seize territory where Russian troops have stalled.

That sparked a turf war between the factions at play this week, as both sides turned on each other and sought to take credit for the Russian advance.

See: The strategic city of Soledar is located in a vast network of salt mine tunnels that cover about 200 kilometers.

When Russia’s Defense Ministry said its troops had taken control of Soledar on January 13, the statement did not mention that Vagner was part of the operation.

Soon after, Andrei Troshev, a senior Vagner commander, accused the ministry of stealing “other people’s achievements” in a Telegram post.

Three days earlier, Prigozhin had claimed that Soledar had fallen to Wagner fighters and made no mention of Russian regular forces before taking to his Telegram channel on January 13 to chastise Russia’s military command.

“It looks like three armies are fighting [in eastern Ukraine]: Ukrainian army and then two Russians that interact poorly and even compete with each other,” Olga Romanova, head of the Russian Sedentary foundation, told Current Time. “In general, they don’t like each other.”

American officials estimate that 4,000 of Wagner’s 50,000 mercenaries were killed on the front lines along Soledar and Bakhmut, with 10,000 wounded. While the battles have exposed fissures among Moscow’s forces, the reliance on Wagner in Soledar has freed up other Russian units to operate elsewhere.

Russia’s Defense Ministry would continue to credit Wagner as part of the breakthrough after Prigozhin’s outbursts, but Romanova says the factionalism at Soledar shows no signs of abating.

Thousands of prisoners are said to have joined Wagner in recent months, with videos showing Prigozhin personally recruiting from prisons across Russia. Prisoners have formed the bulk of new recruits for the mercenary group, and its ranks have been thinned amid recent heavy casualties.

Vagner has also publicly executed deserters and disobedient troops from his own ranks, according to statements from former prisoners captured by Ukrainian troops and seen in videos released by the mercenary group.

Romanova says battlefield losses and alleged executions have hurt Wagner’s ability to recruit, even inside prisons where inmates were offered a path to commuting long sentences by fighting in Ukraine.

“Recruiting slowed down a lot in late December when more footage of extrajudicial executions started circulating,” she said. “These executions appear to have stopped people from fleeing or surrendering to Ukraine, but they have also brought recruitment to a near halt.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *