Smoke billows during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine / File photo: AP
Kyiv: Russia's Defence Ministry said Friday that its forces have captured the salt-mining town of Soledar, the focus of a bloody battle between Russian and Ukrainian forces for months.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ukrainian authorities of Russia's claim. Soledar is located in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk province, one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
The town's fall would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of battlefield setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine.
From the outset, Moscow identified Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk province as priorities, and it has treated the areas as Russian territory since their alleged annexation.
“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed in the evening of Jan. 12,” Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defence Ministry's spokesman, said, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region.”
Taking control of Soledar would allow Russian forces "to cut supply lines for the Ukrainian forces” in the Donestsk city of Bakhmut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there,” Konashenkov said.
Still, the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said that a Russian seizure of Soledar was "not an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”
The institute said that Russian information operations have “overexaggerated the importance of Soledar,” a small settlement, arguing as well that that long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces. AP