A summary of Russia’s war in Ukraine on January 11, 2023

On May 24, shelling hit a factory in the city of Soledar in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

fight in SolderA salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine continued on Wednesday despite Russia’s claim that it had seized the area.

If Russian troops take the city, it would be Moscow’s first victory in months in the Donbass, and would be good news for President Vladimir Putin after a series of battlefield defeats since last summer.

Soledar’s importance in military terms is less. However, its capture would allow Russian forces, and particularly the Wagner mercenary group, to focus on nearby Bagmut, a target since the summer.

The Donetsk city of Soledar has been a central target of Russian forces since last May. With a pre-war population of about 10,000, it had little strategic value, but was a waypoint for the Russians to advance westward. Moscow has been trying for months to attack Bagmut from the east, but if he captures Soledar, he can approach the city by another route.

Russian armed forces have had nothing to celebrate since early July, having to withdraw from both Kharkiv in the north and Kherson in southern Ukraine.

Despite Soledar’s current state of desolation, it would therefore be an extraordinary improvement to take it. But that would be more symbolic than substantive. The Institute for the Study of Warfare (ISW) stressed that control of the Solider “would not allow Russian forces to control critical Ukrainian land links with Baghmut.”

“Even taking more generous Russian claims at face value, the capture of Soledar does not necessarily mean an immediate encirclement of Pakmut,” the think tank added.

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But Solidar is of enormous importance to one man: the oligarch and leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigogine. His Wagner fighters, many of them ex-prisoners, have suffered heavy losses in wave after wave of ground assaults that have become a battlefield of trenches and mud reminiscent of the First World War. After months of the Russian Defense Ministry doing nothing but backtracking, Prigozhin is eager to show what his men have to offer.

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