Ukrainian soldiers are to begin Patriot training in the United States next week. Two US officials told CNN. The training will take place at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where US forces typically conduct their air defense system training programs. The training will last “several months”, according to Laura Cooper, US undersecretary of defense with responsibility for Russia and Ukraine. Joe Biden announced the dispatch of the defense systems on the occasion of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington on December 21st.
US and Ukrainian officials told CNN that Russian artillery fire has dropped sharply since its peak, by as much as 75% in some areas. There is speculation that Russia may be rationing artillery fire due to supply shortages, or the decision could be part of a broader reassessment of tactics in the face of a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive. In any case, the marked drop in artillery fire is further evidence of Moscow’s increasingly weak position on the battlefield nearly a year into the invasion, the sources noted.
“During a telephone conversation with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, I briefed him on the situation on the battlefield and Ukraine’s urgent need for armaments. We agreed on joint efforts to implement the peace formula. They were expectations from the future Ukraine-EU summit discussed”. Thus the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Telegram after a phone call with Michel.
The head of the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Sergiy Cherevaty, said that “Only during today’s day, Soledar and its surroundings were hit by 86 Russian attacks with different artillery systems”, in statements released by Ukrainska Pravda. In the small town
10km north of Bakhmut – at the moment Moscow’s main target – battle rages between Ukrainian troops and mercenaries from Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group. Cherevaty stated that “the enemy is suffering colossal losses, but try to move forward, even a small tactical advance is presented as a great achievement”
A few hours earlier, the head of the Russian group of Wagner mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had declared that hard and bloody fighting was underway on the outskirts of Soledar, a city in eastern Ukraine close to Bakhmut, the hottest spot on the front. “Let’s be honest. The Ukrainian army is fighting bravely for Bakhmut and Soledar. Very hard and bloody fighting is going on in the western suburbs of Soledar,” Prigozhin said, quoted on Telegram by his press service. “The Armed Forces of Ukraine are honorably defending the territory of Soledar. Claims of mass desertions from his ranks do not correspond to reality,” he added.
The town of Soledar, about 10 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut, is adjacent to Bakhmutské, a village that pro-Russian separatists said yesterday they had captured. Wagner’s troops are playing a leading role in the battle for Bakhmut, a city of dubious strategic importance, but which has taken on strong symbolic value as both sides have been fighting for its control for months. Yesterday Prigozhin said that the assault on Soledar was carried out “exclusively” by members of his organization. The British Ministry of Defence, part of the fighting aims to control the entrance to an old salt mine at Soledar, as its tunnels pass under the front line and could be used to ‘infiltrate behind enemy lines’.
Tass announces appointment, but Kremlin neither confirms nor denies (ANSA)
The British Ministry of Defence, in its daily intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine, claims that Russian and Wagner forces probably control most of the town of Soledar. In the report, posted on Twitter, London comments that the capture of the town is probably still Moscow’s main immediate operational goal. Russia’s Soledar axis, according to ministry experts, is an attempt to isolate Bakhmut from the north and disrupt Ukrainian lines of communication. Despite the increased pressure on Bakhmut, the report concludes, Russia is unlikely to encircle the city any time soon, as Ukrainian forces maintain stable defensive lines at depth and control of supply routes.
On the other hand, the military commissar of the Russian region of Samara, Alexey Vdovin, announced that the authorities will not publish a list of those killed or wounded in the New Year’s attack on Makiivka, where according to Moscow “at least 89 Russian soldiers” were killed and according to Kiev “about 400”. This was reported by the online newspaper Meduza, specifying that local activists have asked for the publication of the names of the soldiers killed and a petition with this request has so far collected 49,000 signatures. According to various media, many of the victims of the bombing were reservists mobilized for the war in Ukraine and originally from the Samara area. 63.ru – also quoted by Meduza – writes that Vdovin explained the refusal to reveal the names of the victims with the fact that such lists contain personal data and can lead to “provocations” by foreign intelligence agencies.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has visited Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, the first time a senior Western official has visited the war-torn city close to the Russian border. This was announced by the German foreign ministry. Invited by her counterpart “and friend” Dmytro Kubela, Baerbock said that the Ukrainian population can “count on our solidarity and support” in providing generators, transformers, fuel or blankets to survive the freezing winter, according to statements released by the second city of the country, and transmitted by the German ministry.