Russia mentioned Friday its forces had captured Soledar, a salt mine city in japanese Ukraine, in what would characterize a symbolic if not strategic victory for Moscow after months of setbacks on the battlefield. Nevertheless, Kyiv refuted the declare.
Taking Soledar would additionally characterize a symbolic PR win for the person who runs Wagner – oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has regularly criticized the Russian Protection Ministry’s administration of the “Particular Navy Operation” in Ukraine.
The place is Soledar: The small lies on the heart of the Donbas area, the huge expanse of japanese Ukraine whose seize Russia has prized above all different areas since final summer time. Certainly, Moscow regards it as Russian territory since claiming (illegally) that it had annexed all of Donetsk area – together with the roughly 40% that lies exterior Russian management.
It’s only a few miles northeast of the bigger metropolis of Bakhmut, which has develop into maybe essentially the most contested and kinetic a part of the 1,300-kilometer (800 mile) entrance line in Ukraine and the scene of among the fiercest preventing of the struggle.
Why has Soledar been a goal? With a pre-war inhabitants of about 10,000, it has little strategic worth in itself, however is a waypoint within the Russians’ attritional slog westwards. Moscow has struggled for months to assault Bakhmut from the east, however had been it to seize Soledar, Moscow would at the least be capable to strategy the town from a special path.
An eye fixed on salt mines: The world round Soledar consists of giant salt mines, which belong to state enterprise Artemsil, the largest producer of salt in Europe, which halted manufacturing shortly after Russia’s invasion final February. The world surrounding the city hosts “in depth reserves of very pure salt which have solely been exploited on an industrial scale since 1881,” in response to the European Route of Industrial Heritage.
Some have speculated that the Russians – and Wagner’s chief Prigozhin – have eyed Soledar for its enormous assets of gypsum. Prigozhin has used Wagner in Africa and Syria as a mercenary drive to leverage entry to assets together with diamonds and oil.
However exploiting Soledar’s famed salt mines would require heavy funding and a extra tranquil surroundings than at current. Prigozhin has mentioned the huge community of tunnels created by the mining affords “distinctive and historic defenses,” and a “community of underground cities.”
A win for Russia after a very long time: The Russian armed forces have had nothing to have a good time for the reason that starting of July, and have needed to retreat in each Kharkiv to the north and Kherson in southern Ukraine. The seize of Soledar, regardless of its now-ruined state, would due to this fact be uncommon progress. However it will be symbolic quite than substantive.
CNN’s Seb Shukla contributed reporting to this submit.