(Kramatorsk) Fierce fighting was underway on Wednesday in Soledar, eastern Ukraine, where Russia is trying at all costs to turn the tide of the war, once again changing military leaders as Kyiv seems closer to obtain Western heavy armaments.
“Everything that is happening today in the direction of Bakhmout or Soledar is the bloodiest scenario of this war,” Mykhaïlo Podoliak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.
The fighting “continues” in Soledar, the front “holds”, for his part affirmed in the evening the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We are doing everything to strengthen the Ukrainian defense without any break, even for a day” in the eastern region of Donetsk, he hammered.
Soledar, a mining town of 10,000 people, is located near the larger town of Bakhmout, which the Ukrainians have been defending fiercely for several months against waves of assaults by Russian forces.
The group of Russian mercenaries Wagner has claimed responsibility for its capture, which would finally constitute a military victory for Moscow, after several humiliating setbacks since September, but it has been denied not only by the Ukrainian military but also by the Russian army.
“Intense fighting continues in Soledar,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar said on Telegram.
According to her, the Russians “tried to break through the Ukrainian defense” and “completely” take over this locality, “but without success”.
“Assault forces are fighting in the city,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement, adding that “airborne units blocked the northern and southern parts” of Soledar.
The Kremlin, which is wont to reign over its rival forces – in this case Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigojine and the Ministry of Defense – has been cautious about the situation on the ground.
“You don’t have to rush. We are waiting for official declarations,” spokesman for the Russian presidency, Dmitry Peskov, told the press, while considering that there was “a positive dynamic in the advances” of the Russian forces.
“No one has planned to give the city away,” insisted “Bober”, a wounded Ukrainian soldier awaiting evacuation, met by AFP on Wednesday on the road linking Bakhmout to Sloviansk. Soledar “was not completely taken” by the Russians, he claimed.
According to Mykhaïlo Podoliak, the Russian military losses there are “enormous” and “the Ukrainian army is also losing men”. “Certainly, it’s more than what’s happened before,” he told AFP.
New military leader
At the same time in Moscow, in a new change of military leadership whose last episodes were considered to be dictated by the major setbacks encountered on the ground, it was the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Valéri Guerassimov – a direct interlocutor of Vladimir Putin – who was appointed “commander of the combined grouping of troops” deployed in Ukraine.
“The increase in the level of command of the special operation (in Ukraine) is linked to an expansion in the scope of the missions to be carried out, to the need to conduct closer interaction between the components of the armed forces”, explained the Ministry of Defense in a press release.
Valéri Guerassimov’s predecessor, General Sergei Surovikin – demoted to the rank of deputy – only led operations for barely three months.
He had been appointed in October to rectify the situation of the Russian army which suffered setbacks in the face of Ukrainian offensives in the regions of Kharkiv (north-east) and Kherson (south).
He was attributed the tactic of massive strikes on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, which did not bend Kyiv.
Warsaw promises tanks
At the same time, Ukraine reiterated its appeals to its Western partners, on the eve of a new meeting at the American base at Ramstein in Germany on January 20, to obtain heavy and long-range armaments.
“Only missiles with a range of more than 100 kilometers will allow us to significantly accelerate the liberation of the territories,” argued Mykhaïlo Podoliak in his statements to AFP, promising that they would not be used against the territory. Russian.
“We still want to get 250-350 heavy tanks,” he repeated. Western chancelleries are slow to respond favorably to Kyiv’s requests on this point and Paris, London, Berlin and Washington have only promised tanks and other light armored vehicles at this stage.
But Poland took a first step on Wednesday, saying it was ready to deliver a company of German Leopard 2 heavy tanks, or 14 units.
This delivery will be made “as part of a coalition that is being built”, declared its president Andrzej Duda, during a joint press conference with his Ukrainian and Lithuanian counterparts, in Lviv in the west. from Ukraine.
“One state alone cannot help us, because we are fighting against thousands of Russian tanks,” reacted President Zelensky.
“I think that today there will be a positive (decision) from another state to provide us with modern Western-style tanks,” he added, without naming that country.
Finally, on the diplomatic front, a rare meeting between Russian and Ukrainian officials took place in Turkey on Tuesday between the human rights officers of the two belligerents, Dmytro Loubinets and Tatiana Moskalkova.