KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia claimed Friday that its forces captured a fiercely contested salt mining town, in what would mark a rare victory for the Kremlin after a series of setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities said the fight for Soledar continued.
There have repeatedly been conflicting reports over who controls the town, the site of a monthslong bloody battle in the grinding fight for Ukraine’s eastern regions. The Associated Press could not independently confirm either side’s claim.
Soledar is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk province, one of four that Moscow illegally annexed in September. From the outset, Moscow identified Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province as priorities, and in September declared them part of Russia along with two other regions.
“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed in the evening of Jan. 12,” Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, said, adding that the development was “important for the continuation of offensive operations in the Donetsk region.”
Taking control of the town would allow Russian forces “to cut supply lines for the Ukrainian forces” in Bakhmut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there,” Konashenkov said.
But Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian army in the east, denied the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim in remarks carried by RBK Ukraine news outlet, saying that “fighting is ongoing in the city.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, observed that the fall of Soledar wouldn’t mark “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 the long and difficult battle has contributed to the exhaustion of Russian forces.
Just hours before Russia’s claim, Ukraine reported that there had been a heavy night of fighting but did not acknowledge loss of the town.
In a Telegram post early Friday, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said that Moscow “had sent almost all (its) main forces” to secure a victory in the east. She said that Ukrainian fighters “are bravely trying to hold the defense.”
“This is a difficult stage of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt,” Maliar added.
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