War in Ukraine, live: Volodymyr Zelensky promises to “supply ammunition” to his soldiers in Bakhmout and Soledar

Five things to know about the Battle of Soledar, a name that means “gift of salt” in Ukrainian and Russian

The Battle of Soledar is one of the bloodiest since the start of the war. Moscow is throwing all its strength into it in the hope of regaining victory after several setbacks. Agence France-Presse takes stock of this confrontation, which has redoubled in intensity in recent days:

Located in the Donetsk region, which Moscow claims should be annexed, Soledar is about 15 kilometers northeast of Bakhmout, a larger city, which has been in Russia’s sights for several months. Before the conflict, Soledar was only a small town of around 10,000 inhabitants, mainly known for its salt mines, the largest in Europe. They are crossed by 200 kilometers of underground galleries, which can represent several tactical advantages in time of war.

  • “Bloody” Battle

The adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, declared on Wednesday January 11 to Agence France-Presse that “everything that is happening today around Bakhmout or Soledar is the bloodiest scenario of this war”.

“A lot of blood, a lot of artillery duels, a lot of close combat, especially in Soledar. »

Even the Kremlin, usually tight-lipped about military casualties, admitted that the Russians had paid a “pretty high price” to advance to Soledar.

Soledar’s Assault, is “exclusively” led by Wagner’s mercenaries, according to Evgueni Prigojine, the president of the paramilitary group. The latter is suspected by analysts of wanting to strengthen his political stature in Russia, through military successes in Ukraine. Mr Prigozhin has toured Russian prisons in recent months recruiting detainees, against the promise of high salaries and an amnesty after some time spent fighting.

For military analyst Anatoly Khramchikhine, Wagner’s role in Ukraine is “fairly substantial” and the group has a “a number of important advantages” compared to the Russian regular army: “Better training and at the same time less formalities [administratives] and bureaucracy”.

Beyond the military aspects, the battles for Soledar and Bakhmout have also brought to light the rivalry which, according to many analysts, exists between Wagner and the regular Russian army. On Wednesday, Mr. Prigojine announced that his group controlled Soledar, before being denied by the Russian Ministry of Defense, citing fighting still ongoing. Even the Kremlin called for not ” hurry “ to declare victory.

For Mr. Khramchikhine, it is ” obvious “ that Wagner and the Ministry of Defense are in competition in Ukraine, given the magnitude of the forces and means available to the paramilitary group.

Vassily Kashin, another analyst, recalls, however, that the two camps “cooperate” despite their rivalry. “They cannot do things independently, they are part of the same force”he said.

If analysts discuss the strategic importance of Soledar, there is no doubt that the Russian authorities will seize the opportunity to claim an important victory, after suffering spectacular setbacks.

Russian forces have been desperately seeking for months to take Bakhmout, sending waves of soldiers against the wall of Ukrainian defenses, constantly pounding the city with artillery.

“Any win is important, especially because there hasn’t been a win for a while”insists Mr. Khramchikhine, speaking of Soledar. “Strategically, it could make things easier for Bakhmout”he adds.

War in Ukraine, live: Volodymyr Zelensky promises to “supply ammunition” to his soldiers in Bakhmout and Soledar