Russia Says It Has Taken Soledar as Kyiv Denies the Claim

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Russia claimed that it had captured the small salt-mining town, while Ukraine rejected Moscow’s claim and said that its forces were still hanging on.CreditCredit…Libkos/Associated Press

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday that its troops had captured the eastern salt-mining town of Soledar, a claim quickly rejected by Ukraine’s military, which said that its soldiers were hanging on.

After a string of setbacks for Russia, capturing Soledar would represent the biggest success for Moscow’s forces in months, though military analysts have cautioned that the small town is of limited strategic value.

The battle has put into sharp relief Russia’s costly and grinding offensive in eastern Ukraine as it attempts to take the nearby city of Bakhmut, part of its goal of controlling the entire Donbas region. Although seizing Soledar is not expected to quickly change the battle in the east, it would give Moscow’s forces new locations to place artillery, with the potential to partially encircle Bakhmut from the north, and it could put pressure on Ukrainian supply lines that run toward the city.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Friday that its troops had “completed” their capture of the town overnight. But Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukrainian troops in the east, denied that Soledar had been captured, saying that Russia was “dispersing information noise.”

“This is not true,” Mr. Cherevaty said in remarks to Ukrainian news outlets on Friday afternoon. “The fighting is ongoing.”

Russian forces in the area far outnumber the Ukrainian forces who remain, according to people familiar with the matter on the Ukrainian side in the Donbas region. They said the fighting was fierce and that resupply efforts were hindered by heavy Russian tank fire.

Over the past several days there have been conflicting reports about who controls Soledar, where hundreds of civilians are trapped in a town that has largely been reduced to rubble. This week, the head of the Wagner mercenary group, which is fighting for Russia in Ukraine, claimed that his fighters had seized control of the town. Ukraine denied the reports, and the Kremlin walked back the assertion at the time.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in its statement on Friday that Soledar was “of great importance for continuing successful offensive operations” in the Donbas region.

Military analysts say that even if Soledar were to fall, it would not necessarily mean that Bakhmut — or the whole of the Donbas — is next.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said in an analysis on Thursday that geolocated footage indicated that Moscow’s forces “likely control most if not all of Soledar” but called the capture “at best a Russian Pyrrhic tactical victory” after Moscow had committed significant resources. It added that the battle will have contributed to “Russian forces’ degraded combat power and cumulative exhaustion.”

The White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, echoed those sentiments on Thursday when asked about the status of Soledar, cautioning that it was important to “keep this in perspective.”

“We don’t know how it’s going to go, so I’m not going to predict failure or success here,” he told reporters. “But even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to make a — it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself.”

He added: “If you look at what’s been happening over the last 10 and a half months, particularly in the Donbas, towns and villages have swapped hands quite frequently.” 

About 559 civilians — including 15 children — were trapped in Soledar as the brutal battle unfolded, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the local Ukrainian military administration, said on Ukrainian state television on Thursday.

Ivan Nechepurenko contributed reporting.

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