In another example of Russia and Ukraine telling two different versions of reality regarding their months-long war, the two sides appeared to be at odds over the current state of Soledar, a key salt mining town in the Donbas region. On Friday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces captured the town.
“The liberation of the town of Soledar was completed on the evening of Jan. 12, which is important for the continuation of successful offensive operations in the Donetsk direction,” Konashenkov said. “Establishing full control over Soledar makes it possible to cut off supply lines for Ukrainian forces in the town of [Bakhmut], located to the southwest, and then block and take into the ‘cauldron’ the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine remaining in it.”
Konashenkov’s statement was met with denials from Ukraine. Serhii Cherevaty, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army in the east, told The Associated Press “there are still Ukrainian units in Soledar.”
“The situation is difficult but stable. We are holding back the enemy. Nobody leaves the positions, the positions are being held. We are fighting back,” a Ukraine serviceman in the Soledar area said Thursday. “The intensity of shelling rose by about 70%. But nothing changed radically. Our fighters are holding the defense as they used to hold it.”
As Konashenkov alluded to, Soledar and nearby Bakhmut are important parts of Russia’s strategy against Ukraine in the Donbas region. However, experts and officials in the United States have downplayed the importance of the towns.
The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington, said Russia has “overexaggerated the importance of Soledar” and its falling “is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut.”
“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians… it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby added at a briefing Thursday. “And it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in terms of their efforts to regain their territory.”