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where are the fighting in Soledar, the “hottest” point of the conflict?

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FOCUS- Observers say the small town 10 kilometers from Bakhmout is likely 90 percent under Russian control, with Ukrainian forces holding a last stand on the western outskirts.

Who would have thought that the small town of Soledar, in eastern Ukraine, would find itself at the heart of Russian war strategy? This locality in the Donetsk region, in the east, which had 10,000 inhabitants before the war, constitutes with the neighboring town of Bakhmout the point “the hottestof the conflict, according to the region’s governor on Saturday. Since Friday, Moscow has claimed control. After a fierce battle, the Russian Ministry of Defense proclaimed the “releaseof that town, which allegedly took place, he claimed, “January 12 in the evening“.

At the same time, kyiv claims that the city is still “under controlUkrainian. “Fighting continues inside and outside the cityDonetsk region governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Saturday. What about?

The city probably 90% under Russian control

According to the Institute for the Study of War, satellite images from January 11 and 12 show that Russian forces would control most, if not all of Soledar, and that Ukrainian forces were pushed back to the western outskirts of the city. At the same time, Russian Internet users published on January 12 images of fighters from the Wagner group marching freely in the city, alongside Russian forces.

For Olivier Kempf, associate researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research, the Russians, who already controlled 40% of the city last week, have “continued their progress and took all the center and almost all the salt mine, that is to say at least 90% of the city“. Ukrainians would therefore be “around mine shaft no. 7 and the station“, a position “despite everything (…) very precarious“. President Zelensky said in his daily address on Friday that the “battle for Bakhmout and Soledarwas still in progress.

Soledar, a cheap lens

Militarily speaking, observers agree on the very limited interest of the town of Soledar, located 10 kilometers northwest of Bakhmout. “This battle is often compared to Verdun, but on an operational level it has nothing to do», underlines Guillaume Ancel, former officer and observer of the conflict in Ukraine. “SIf the German army broke through at Verdun, it gave them the possibility of a major offensive on the other side of the line. At Soledar, this is not the case.“explains the military analyst.

Its capture by the Russian forces, if proven, would therefore “no operational impact», confirms the Institute for the Study of War who believes “unlikely“than the Russian victory at Soledar”portends an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmout“.

Why, then, have you made such efforts to take this city? “Vladimir Putin initially wanted to conquer Ukraine and its capital kyiv“, Explain on his blog Guillaume Ancel. Following the failures of his special operation, he decided to “settle” for the east of the country, but the front was reversed and his forces even had to abandon the Kherson region to avoid being dislocated.“, he continues.

The Wagner militia, called to the rescue, therefore “focused on obtaining a local “victory”, a success that he (Evgueni Prigojine, boss of Wagner, editor’s note) can offer to his master, Vladimir Putin“. After targeting Bakhmout, a town of 60,000 inhabitants practically razed by months of fighting, the Russian forces “concentrated all their effort on a small town six times smaller“. The challenge for the Kremlin is to post a victory at all costs.

What consequences for the rest of the conflict?

However, if taking Soledar is “no value“, she is not “not without consequences“, emphasizes Guillaume Ancel. There “victoireadvanced by the Kremlin will have a certain moral and political impact on the Russian troops. Vladimir Putin himself, speaking on Russian television on Sunday, welcomed a “positive dynamic”. “I hope that our fighters will still delight us more than once with their military results“, declared the Russian president.

Faced with this massive communication, how will the Ukrainian general staff react? “They may not be totally determined on the matterexplains Guillaume Ancel, according to whom Western supporters advise against any counter-offensive in the small town in kyiv. From a military point of view, any leader would make the rational decision to stand down. But there is the risk of the media trap. If kyiv gives in to Russian communication, it could turn into a deadly trap, because Russian artillery awaits them. It would be better for the Ukrainian forces to retake Kreminna in the North, or rush towards Zaporizhia in the South”.

SEE ALSO – War in Ukraine: Bakhmout/Soledar, towards a trompe l’oeil Russian victory?

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