Russian paramilitaries are thought to have captured a large swath of the salt-mining town of Soledar, Tuesday, following months of bloody fighting in the area surrounding the eastern city of Bakhmut.
“In the last four days, Russian and Wagner forces have made tactical advances into the small Donbas town of Soledar and are likely in control of most of settlement,” the UK Ministry of Defense said.
The town sits five miles northeast of Bakhmut, a city in the Donetsk province where bloody fighting has raged for months, even as Russian forces have pulled back elsewhere along the frontline.
Bakhmut has been the focus of Russian efforts for months, led by the Wagner Group — a quasi-state paramilitary group financed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
While the city controls a small number of regional supply lines, US intelligence believes that Prigozhin’s real aim may be the salt and gypsum mines in the surrounding area, many of which sit beneath Soledar.
The oligarch has ties to several mining concerns on the African continent in countries where Wagner paramilitaries operate.
Moscow’s puppet leader in Donetsk indicated that Russian forces would soon have control of the small town, but warned the victory may be pyrrhic.
Russia’s forces are “very close” to taking over Soledar, Denis Pushilin said on Russian State TV Tuesday, but the territory was won “at a very high price.”
Wagner paramilitaries had not captured the Artemsol salt mine on the north end of town as of Tuesday, according to Russian independent news outlet Meduza.
Prigozhin acknowledged that heavy fighting continued on Soledar’s west side.
“The Ukrainian army bravely fights for Bakhmut and Soledar,” Prigozhin said on the messaging app Telegram. “On the western outskirts of Soledar there are heavy bloody battles.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again called the situation in Soledar “difficult” on Tuesday.
In his nightly address, he questioned Russia’s motivation for advancing on the small town.
“What did Russia want to gain there? Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left,” he said.
“And thousands of their people were lost: the whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes,” he added.
“This is what madness looks like.”
With Post wires