Russia’s defence ministry claimed on Friday that its forces have taken complete control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, a settlement known for its salt mines, after gaining ground for several days.
Kyiv has previously noted difficulties in the area but has not yet commented on the Russian claim.
Soledar’s capture could make it harder for Ukraine to hold nearby Bakhmut, a city that has gained symbolic importance for both sides and become the centre of fierce frontline fighting. Taking Bakhmut would bring Moscow its first military success since last summer.
The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that its forces had captured Soledar late on Thursday, adding that this was an important development for the “continuation of successful offensive operations” in the area.
“Taking full control of Soledar allows us to cut off the supply routes of the Ukrainian forces in the southwestern town of [Bakhmut] and then blockade and take the remaining units into a ‘cauldron’,” Russia’s defence ministry said, meaning it aimed to encircle Ukrainian troops.
It listed the ways Russian forces had participated in the assault on Soledar, stressing that air strikes were crucial for the campaign, and claimed that its troops had conducted a special “covert manoeuvre”.
This appeared to be a response to repeated statements by Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private military contractor group, that it was his contract troops alone that were on the ground in Soledar and that could claim any credit for the offensive.
Asked on Friday why his perception of the battlefield landscape differed from the Russian defence ministry’s, Prigozhin said he would withhold comment because “the boat is already rocking”.