Russia is touting a rare military victory, but Ukraine disputes that claim #usa


Ukrainian soldiers on their positions in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.


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Ukrainian soldiers on their positions in the frontline near Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.


KYIV — After months of fighting, Russia’s ministry of defense claims it has captured the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar — a claim that Ukrainian military officials deny.

If taken, the salt-mining town would be a rare military victory for Russia in its Ukraine war.

A spokesperson for the Ukrainian military, Serhiy Cherevaty, says that Russia’s statements “do not correspond to reality. Battles are going on in Soledar.”

Amid days of intense fighting, there were conflicting statements on who controlled Soledar. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Russian mercenary force the Wagner Group, claimed his men had seized the town as early as Tuesday, while still acknowledging a “cauldron” of fighting persisted.

Russia’s capture of Soledar “is and isn’t significant,” explains Karolina Hird, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “Russian forces, throughout the course of this war, have struggled to make operationally significant gains to such a degree that when they do start making these tactical, small-scale block-by-block advances, those stand out.”

Control of Soledar could allow Russia to cut off Ukrainian supply lines to nearby Bakhmut, another fiercely contested city seen as central to Russia’s struggling efforts to control eastern Ukraine. While reaching Bahkmut may be Russia’s goal, military experts say the fall of Soledar doesn’t guarantee Bakhmut will be encircled and doesn’t signify a huge turning point for the Russian military.

And the question remains whether minor tactical advances are worth the cost.

“The Ukrainians have very, very successfully pinned Russian forces up against Soledar and Bakhmut for six months,” says Hird, “and used this to basically just continue pulling Russian troops, Russian equipment, to this area and basically burning through it.”

While not an important military target, Bahkmut is connected to several highway systems, a critical ground line of communication and transportation for the Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently visited Bahkmut, just before his trip to Washington and speech to the U.S. Congress, where he presented representatives with a battle-torn Ukrainian flag signed by forces there.

“Hold Bakmut” has become a rallying cry across Ukraine. In his nightly address Monday, Zelenskyy said that the fighting in the area has bought Ukraine additional time and military power.

“Bakhmut is more about politics rather than war,” says Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military expert. “From the military perspective, Bakhmut doesn’t have operational or strategic significance. But the Russian Federation can turn this into an enormous wave of propaganda.”

NPR’s Charles Maynes contributed to this report from Moscow.

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