(Kramatorsk) Russia claimed on Friday that it took control of Soledar after a fierce battle, an announcement immediately denied by Kyiv that “heavy fighting” was still going on in this small town in the east of Ukraine.
“The liberation of the town of Soledar, which is of great importance for the continuation of offensive operations” in the Donetsk region was completed on January 12 in the evening, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
“Heavy fighting is still taking place in Soledar,” immediately replied to Ukrainian television the spokesman for the Eastern Command of the Ukrainian army, Serguiï Tcherevaty.
According to him, “the Ukrainian armed forces maintain the situation [à Soledar] under control in difficult conditions” against “the best units [du groupe russe de mercenaires] Wagner and other Russian special forces.
On Ukrainian television, Mr Cherevaty accused Moscow of “spreading false ‘informational noise’” around the conquest of this city once known for its salt mines, to “sow distrust among Ukrainians towards [leur] army “.
“Small retreats or maneuvers do not mean that they should be perceived as a big defeat,” he said.
Earlier in the morning, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Maliar had spoken of “an offensive [russe] intensity” in the area with fighting that “continued” into the night, which was “hot”. “It’s a difficult phase of the war,” she said.
According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the capture of Soledar, a small town of around 10,000 before the war, “is unlikely to portend imminent encirclement. of Bakhmout”, the main target of the Russian army, located 15 kilometers south-west of Soledar.
It “will not allow Russian forces to exercise control over the important Ukrainian land lines of communication to Bakhmout”, he noted in his daily bulletin.
Fighting in and around Soledar has been raging for several months, but its intensity has increased sharply in recent days.
On Wednesday, Wagner’s leader, Yevgeny Prigojine, had already claimed the capture of Soledar with his men, before being quickly contradicted not only by Kyiv, but also by the Russian Ministry of Defense with which he maintains relations of rivalry.
In its daily bulletin, the ISW said it believed that “Russian forces have [en réalité] probably captured Soledar on January 11,” which is Wednesday.
In support of its remarks, the ISW referred in particular to “geotagged photos published on January 11 and 12” which “indicate that Russian forces probably control most if not all of Soledar and have probably pushed Ukrainian forces out of the western outskirts of Soledar. the locality”.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had however promised to provide “everything necessary” to his army to resist the Russian assaults in Soledar and Bakhmout.
Without presenting figures, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, had recognized with AFP “significant losses” on his side in this “bloody battle”, estimating that they were “enormous” in the opposing camp, this which the Russian Ministry of Defense has not confirmed.
A sign of the intensity of the Russian offensive, the Ukrainian army said it repelled attacks on Thursday in more than a dozen localities in the region.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” spokesman for the Russian presidency, Dmitry Peskov, told the press.
To better coordinate and support its assaults on the ground, the Kremlin has had a new head of operations in Ukraine for the past two days: General Valéri Guerassimov, an experienced soldier who is also already at the head of the general staff of the Russian armies.
“De facto” member of NATO
On the international level of the conflict, Ukraine said on Friday that it had become a “de facto” member of NATO.
” That is true. It is a fact,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told the BBC. “I am sure that in the near future we will become a member of NATO, de jure,” he continued, echoing Kyiv’s formal request in this regard.
The Alliance also announced on Friday the deployment of AWACS surveillance aircraft in Romania from Tuesday to support its reinforced presence in the region and “monitor Russian military activity”.
The UN Security Council is also due to meet at 3 p.m. (Eastern time) to discuss the situation in Ukraine, nearly 11 months after the start of the Russian invasion.