Russia has declared its first major victory over Ukrainian forces in months. On Thursday night the Russian defense ministry announced "full control" town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, describing the salt mining town as of "great importance for the continuing successful offensive operations in the Donetsk direction."
The official declaration came about 48 hours following the private military firm Wagner Group initially claiming capture of Soledar, with the group's head Yevgeny Prigozhin photographing himself inside the sprawling salt mines the town is famous for.
The Wagner statement created immediate tensions inside Russia and reportedly in military command ranks over how quickly the mercenary fighters claimed victory for themselves. That same day, on Wednesday, the defense ministry put out an official statement suggesting full victory was premature at that point, and made no mention of Wagner.
A fresh military statement Friday declaring victory over the Donetsk town also failed to mention Wagner, instead hailing the efforts of aerial, paratrooper, and ground forces.
"On the evening of January 12, the liberation of the town of Soledar, which is vital for the continuation of successful offensive operations in the Donetsk area, was completed," Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov said.
According to more from the statement in TASS:
Full control of Soledar makes it possible to cut off the supply routes of Ukrainian troops in Artyomovsk located southwest and subsequently block the city and entrap the Ukrainian military there, the general explained.
The seizure of Soledar by Russian troops was facilitated by continuous air, missile and artillery strikes on Ukrainian army positions, Konashenkov reported.
"Soledar was seized thanks to continuous strikes delivered on the enemy by assault and army aviation aircraft, missile troops and artillery of the Russian group of troops (forces). They continuously delivered concentrated strikes on the Ukrainian army positions in the town, denying the enemy the redeployment of reserves, ammunition supplies and its attempts to retreat to other defensive lines," the spokesman said.
The defense ministry statement then claimed over 700 Ukrainian troops were killed, but made no mention of casualties on the Russian side.
The Wagner Tuesday statements proved divisive and controversial for the Russian side...
1/ Yevgeny Prigozhin's apparently premature announcement of Soledar's capture has reportedly led to a desperate push by Wagner to make it a reality. Wagner is fighting without regard for casualties, not just to gain Soledar, but for Prigozhin's reputation.pic.twitter.com/92Ji0oQn68— ChrisO_wiki (@ChrisO_wiki) January 12, 2023
"In the past three days alone, over 700 Ukrainian troops and more than 300 weapon systems were destroyed in the area of the town of Soledar," the spokesman added, describing that "In the course of operations for the liberation of Soledar, the Airborne Force units conducted a stealth maneuver from another direction and successfully attacked Ukrainian army positions from the march, having gained commanding heights, and blocked the town from the northern and southern sides."
Interestingly, Ukraine is still as of Friday refuting that Russia has definitively captured Soledar; however, a CNN crew observed organized pullback of Ukrainian troops under heavy continued shelling.
⚡️Rare video of UA S-300 engaging a target.— War Monitor (@WarMonitors) January 13, 2023
Presumably summer 2022. pic.twitter.com/c5UoxZBnHY
And conveniently, Washington's first reaction to news of Soledar's capture by Russian forces was to downplay its significance. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Russian advance would not "have a strategic impact on the war itself."
"It certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in terms of their efforts to regain their territory," be had said in a Thursday briefing.