Russia has claimed to have captured the Soledar town which gives them a stranglehold in Bakhmut city, the key to Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine, arguably a decisive moment in the Ukraine Conflict which is nearing a year.
“(The year) 2023 is going to make 2022 look like a skirmish,” Mark Sleboda, a US military veteran and security analyst, was quoted by Sputnik News.
The Russian winter offensive, that we’ve been hearing about for a few weeks now, it seems has now begun in earnest.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of The Wagner Group, a private military unit, said that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in Soledar have either surrendered or been killed.
“I want to repeat that Soledar has been fully liberated and cleared of Ukrainian army units,” Prigozhin said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “The Ukrainian troops that refused to surrender have been destroyed.”
Prigozhin estimated that around 500 Ukrainian troops have been killed after Wagner forces closed the encirclement of Soledar.
“The entire town is littered with the bodies of Ukrainian servicemen,” he said.
Wagner fighters first circulated a video taken in downtown Soledar on Tuesday, as proof the town administration was under their control. Later in the day, Prigozhin was filmed touring the salt mine tunnels, which he said Wagner was starting to clear. The tunnel network is approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles) long and reaches hundreds of meters below the ground level.
Soledar had around 10,000 residents before the conflict. The Ukrainian army turned it into a strongpoint after being pushed out of Popasnaya in mid-2022. Russian control of the town now threatens to unravel the entire Ukrainian front in Donbass.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky had acknowledged on Sunday that the situation in Soledar was “very difficult” but vowed that Ukrainian troops would continue to hold “no matter what.”
Former Ambassador of the Lugansk People’s Republic to Moscow Rodion Miroshnik said earlier that Ukraine had lost about 25,000 people in the battles for Soledar and those losses were irreparable.
Sleboda has turned it an important moment in the conflict.
There’s a large Kiev offensive grouping in the cities of Kremennaya and Svatogo. If Soledar has gone, “then Seversk will essentially be undependable to the north of it. And if Seversk is undependable, that is the launching pad for much of the attack on Svatovo and Kremennaya. So that means that the entire northern offensive grouping of the Kiev regime will be unsustainable.”
Sleboda has termed the importance of Bakhmut, a Donbass city which has turned into a meat grinder for the Ukrainian armed forces, thus:
First, Bakhmut has often been called the key to Donetsk. It’s also a major transport and logistical hub because it has got two highways that intersected and railroads that run north all the way to Moscow and then they go through south and then bend around down into Donetsk city.
Second, Bakhmut is the linchpin of the entire second line of defense of the Kiev regime. “After that there’s only one last defensive line in Donetsk of any major node between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, further to the west.
Third, taking Bakhmut threatens further advances and flanks in other directions due to its geographical location.
Finally, it would allow greater control of the Donetsk-Seversky Canal, which provides water to Donetsk city, according to the analyst. Sleboda pointed out that the Kiev regime cut off the water supply to Donetsk five years ago. “They did it in Crimea as well,” the analyst added. “Cutting off water is what they do.”
Following the February 2014 regime change in Kiev, the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) established control over Bakhmut (known as Artyomovsk at that time). However, the Kiev military junta captured the town in July 2014.
The city is of utmost importance to both sides, and the entire conflict now is centered on what happens there. The Kiev regime has sent tens of thousands of reinforcements into Bakhmut, which are being methodically eliminated by the Russian forces, according to the analyst.
Presently, the standoff over the city has escalated dramatically, he stressed.
“The entire front line, particularly to the area north and south of Bakhmut and Donetsk, is fully activated,” Sleboda said. “And everywhere along there, Russian units, particularly led by the private military company (PMC) Wagner [Group], are on the assault.”
“Also, their artillery has to a much higher degree been silenced,” the military veteran continued. “Russian counter-battery artillery fire has been extremely offensive. What was already a 9-to-1 advantage in terms of artillery is probably at this point greater.”
To cap it off, the Ukrainian forces have been sustaining heavy losses which are between 300 and 1,000 people a day as per western reports. Roughly 90% of Kiev regime casualties continue to be by Russian artillery strikes, according to Sleboda.
Bakhmut Defense: City Beneath City
The particularity of the fight over Bakhmut and adjusted areas is that they’re very easy to defend and very hard to attack because of the height advantage. Those who control this height can see everything and fire down on approaching troops, explained the US military veteran.
“To get a scale, the Kiev regime just in the Bakhmut area has some 60,000 troops,” Sleboda said. “Now, a lot of them are conscripts in territorial defense, but they also have some of their best troops there. According to the head of Wagner [Yevgeny Prigozhin], they have erected some 500 defensive lines of trenches within the city.”
In addition, Bakhmut has an “unusual geography where it is split by a river and has bodies of water in it, which makes it more easily defendable,” according to the analyst.
“Then, there are extensive underground tunnels in Bakhmut that converge, it seems, at some point with the large salt mines of Soledar just to the north of it,” the veteran continued. “These were built as very extensive WW2-era bunker systems and fortifications by the Soviet Union. Some of these tunnels are reportedly big enough to drive tanks into and out of. So, there is a city beneath the city that is being fought in which makes the defense of it even better from a defensive position, and much harder to attack.”
One could see that the whole Ukrainian military offensive is stalled there and may have to be pulled back to save them from being enveloped.
Meanwhile, hospitals in a number of Ukrainian cities are overflowing with wounded troops from the Donetsk People’s Republic’s town of Soledar, commander of the Troy volunteer special forces unit Vladimir Novikov (codenamed Alabay) told TASS.
“All hospitals in the Zaporozhye and Dnepropetrovsk regions are really full of wounded troops, mostly from Soledar,” he said, adding that it was hard to estimate Kiev’s losses in Soledar because the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ command sought to withhold information on killed troops.
According to Novikov, the Ukrainian army suffered huge losses in Soledar though the Ukrainian command had “sent the most capable forces” there.