Moscow says its capture of the eastern salt-mining town will enable Russian troops to envelop the nearby city of Bakhmut.
Russian troops have seized control of the eastern region Ukrainian town of Soledar after weeks of intense fighting, Russia’s defense ministry says.
Moscow’s forces captured the salt-mining town on Thursday evening, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.
“The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by assault and army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a grouping of Russian forces,” the ministry said.
It added the capture of Soledar would allow Russia to cut off “supply lines” for Ukrainian forces in the nearby, strategically important city of Bakhmut and then “block and encircle the Ukrainian units there”.
There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.
Kyiv said earlier that its forces were still holding out in Soledar after a “hot” night of fighting, in what has become one of the bloodiest battlefields of the entire war.
“This is a difficult phase of the war, but we will win. There is no doubt,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia’s claim came after the Wagner Group – a mercenary military force heavily involved in the war in Ukraine – said its fighters had seized Solidar.
The Wagner Group said they were in full control of the town. They even published videos purportedly showing their fighters walking through the town,” said Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from Moscow.
Both sides have endured heavy losses in the battle for Soledar, which sits in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region – one of four partly-occupied regions in Ukraine’s east and south which Moscow moved to unilaterally annex in September.
Its capture would mark a rare military success for the Kremlin after a series of battlefield setbacks and humiliating retreats in its nearly yearlong invasion of Ukraine.
The front lines in Ukraine have barely budged for two months since Russia’s last big retreat in the south.
Ukraine is currently rearming for a planned push to drive Russian forces out of more territory, while Moscow is reinforcing its ranks in a bid to keep control of land it has already seized.
The United States – Kyiv’s foremost ally – said a Russian victory in Soledar or even Bakhmut, a city ten times larger where the Russians have so far been repelled, would mean little for the overall trajectory of the war.
“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself, and it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House.