The Russian Ministry of Defense said that its forces are still participating in the battles of Solidar, the town to the north of Bakhmut, in the east of the country, where the battles are concentrated.
The ministry’s statement came after a statement by the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in which he said that his units “took control of all of Solidar’s territory,” stressing that no other military units participated in the fighting.
According to BBC News Moscow correspondent Will Vernon, Prigozhin could use any victory to improve Wagner’s combative reputation in the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Ministry of Defense’s statements came as if they contradicted the group’s statements, as the Ministry’s spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said in the Daily Military Brief: “Soledar is still besieged from the north and south by units of the Russian airborne forces. The Russian Air Force is carrying out raids on enemy strongholds. The forces are participating.” Attacking in city battles.
Kyiv said earlier that its forces are steadfast. A morning communiqué from the Ukrainian military made only one mention of Solidar, naming the city as one of several bombed in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
“Soledar is not under the control of the Russian army,” Serhiy Chervaty, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military in the east, told local media. Separately, he told the BBC Ukraine that “fighting is still going on” in Solidar.
For its part, the Kremlin also said it was making “progress” in military operations around Solidar and that its forces had “positive momentum”, but a Kremlin spokesman did not confirm the city’s fall.
The fall of Solidar, if verified, will constitute an important boost for Prigozhin, especially after his statement on Tuesday evening that “no other military forces are involved in the fighting in the city,” according to the BBC’s correspondent in Moscow, Will Vernon.
Prigozhin published his picture in military uniform surrounded by Wagner fighters, without mentioning its location.
Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti, published another photo of Prigozhin with armed fighters, saying it was taken in the salt mines of Solidar.
Analysts had repeatedly mentioned the existence of tension in the relationship between the Russian army and Wagner, after public criticism by Prigozhin. Military leaders, accused of “disengagement from the reality of the war in Ukraine.”
The appointment of Colonel Alexander Lapin to the post of head of the Russian land units yesterday came as a veiled message to the commander of Wagner, stating, “Do not play with the army,” as Lapin was among those criticized by Prigozhin.
The Center for Strategic Communications of the Armed Forces of Ukraine accused the Russian private military company Wagner of waging what it described as “psychological warfare”.
The center said on the Telegram website that the photo, which was said to show the head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in the salt caves in the town of Solidar, Donetsk region, was taken in another region.
The center published a picture of the salt caves near Volodymyrivka, in the Donetsk region, to prove what it says.
The center added: “It seems that Prigozhin’s whereabouts do not correspond to reality, and he is not in the Solidar mines.”
A prominent Ukrainian military blogger, Yury Butusov, who is currently in Solidar alongside Ukrainian forces, wrote on Facebook on the evening of January 10 that “our forces are not surrounded.”
Solidar is located in the Donetsk region, 15 kilometers from the city of Bakhmut, which Russia has been trying to control for months.
Ukraine said this week its fighters had withstood intense attacks on the city.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said there was a “difficult situation” in the Donetsk region in his daily evening address on Tuesday. He praised the “courage” of Ukrainian soldiers in defending Solidar.
On a parallel scale, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on reports that the total amount of international military assistance to Ukraine is already comparable to Russia’s annual defense budget.
“So far, we see that NATO member states, led by the United States, are confirming their readiness to continue allocating money and pumping weapons to Ukraine,” Peskov said.
Military analysts differ in estimating the strategic value of Solidar, but if the Russian forces succeed in controlling it, this will constitute a symbolic victory for the Kremlin, with Moscow’s failure to control any strategic site since the summer of 2022.