Kyiv, Ukraine – For analysts, if Moscow manages to seize Solidar, a small salt-mining city in Ukraine’s war-torn southeast, “victory” can be little greater than a comfort prize for Russia’s failed navy effort.
Nevertheless, for the Kremlin and pro-Moscow separatists, capturing a metropolis that had a pre-war inhabitants of near 10,000 can be a groundbreaking victory.
And for Yevgeny Prigozhin, the top of Russia’s Wagner Group, a personal navy, Solidar provides entry to mineral riches, a stash of firearms and a better place within the Kremlin rankings.
Prigozhin is greatest referred to as the “cook dinner” of Russian President Vladimir Putin after he grew to become wealthy from authorities contracts feeding troopers, faculty youngsters, and visitors at state banquets.
For months, he has been making an attempt to seize the close by metropolis of Bakhmut – an essential logistical hub whose management will enable Russian and separatist forces to advance deep into southeastern Ukraine.
Regardless of numerous assaults and bombings and the reported losses of 1000’s of troopers, together with fighters recruited from Russian prisons, newly mobilized reservists and males forcibly conscripted from separatist-held areas of Ukraine, the Wagner Group did not take over decisively on Bakhmut.
This setback is especially humiliating after a protracted sequence of Russian defeats and retreats in japanese and southern Ukraine which have highlighted what some observers see as disorganized, poorly coordinated and poorly motivated Russian forces.
So Moscow wants a victory – if not a strategic victory, then no less than one thing that may be promoted on Kremlin-controlled tv networks and reported to Putin.
There’s a propaganda level – if Bakhmut [can’t be taken]Lieutenant Normal Ihor Romanenko, former deputy chief of the Normal Employees of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, informed Al Jazeera:
Solidar’s “encirclement” was reported late Tuesday and offered as an motion solely completed by Wagner’s military.
I want to emphasize as soon as once more that there are not any different navy items besides Wagner fighters [took] Prigozhin informed the Kremlin-funded RIA Novosti information company.
Subsequently, his press division printed images allegedly taken within the salt mines beneath Solidar.
The Ukrainian navy denied the allegations.
Spokesman Serhiy Sharifati informed Al Jazeera that the Solidar takeover was “incorrect”. They waited for an in depth report from the armed forces.
The press service of Ukraine’s Protection Ministry stated the images have been certainly taken in Volodymyrvka, a separatist-held city within the japanese area of Donetsk.
Prigozhin’s phrases concerning the unique position of his military have been questioned by the Russian Protection Ministry, which stated on Wednesday that its paratroopers had “blocked” south and north of Solidar and have been participating within the preventing within the metropolis centre.
The Kremlin urged warning.
“Let’s not rush. Let’s await the official bulletins,” stated Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov whereas describing the “constructive dynamic in progress” at Solidar.
In the meantime, a separatist chief hailed Solidar’s “management” as a step towards full management of Donetsk, elements of which have been occupied by pro-Moscow rebels since 2014.
“This can be a groundbreaking second,” Denis Pushlin informed NTV. We’re making ready for the second we’ve got been ready for to liberate the Donetsk Individuals’s Republic.
For different pro-Kremlin Russians, Solidar is a devastating Ukrainian lack of manpower and a private defeat for the commander-in-chief in Kyiv, Valery Zalogny.
“Zaluzhny didn’t rely losses anyway, however right here, he outdid himself by herding 1000’s of troopers to die or take prisoner,” Herman Kulikovsky, a famous Russian navy analyst, wrote on Telegram on Wednesday.
“In reality, Wagner’s forces not solely destroyed a major a part of the Ukrainian forces that attempted to carry Solidar, but additionally distracted a part of the troops and reserves and – most significantly – distracted the Ukrainian Normal Employees from different entrance strains,” he wrote.
“If there isn’t a Solidar, then there isn’t a Ukraine,” stated Zakhar Prilepin, a pro-Kremlin propagandist, on Telegram.
Town is unquestionably the important thing to capturing Bakhmut.
However what lies beneath and round it additionally supplies a proof for why Prigozhin is so determined for Wagner to regulate the town and monopolize its management within the eyes of the Kremlin.
The salt mines beneath Solidar’s command include a big navy trophy, and big warehouses of firearms relationship again to World Conflict II.
Salt absorbs water and prevents rust, and Moscow started loading mines with Nazi trophy weapons and tons of of 1000’s of Soviet small arms within the late Fifties, based on Nikolai Mitrokhin, a historian at Germany’s College of Bremen.
That’s the reason the Ukrainian military deployed a battalion of particular forces there within the spring of 2014 and defended mines from Donetsk. [separatist] “Militias are gathering on the gates,” he informed Al Jazeera.
He stated all the warehouse might not have been evacuated as a result of the elevator might convey not more than ten containers to the roof at one time.
Solidar salt could possibly be simply as helpful.
Town, whose identify means “present of salt,” as soon as equipped as much as 40 p.c of the desk salt within the Soviet Union.
Earlier than the struggle, it equipped about 90 p.c of the salt all through Ukraine, and hostilities throughout the town induced costs to skyrocket.
Town’s environment are additionally wealthy in alabaster, a helpful clay for ceramics and charcoal.
Prigozhin is thought to have enterprise pursuits that go far past sustaining a personal military.
Understandably, his fighters minimize their enamel in Syria, serving to President Bashar al-Assad restore many of the war-torn nation.
Then Evro Polis, an organization managed by Prigozhin, signed a deal to develop Syria’s oil and gasoline fields and restore power infrastructure, based on Russian and Western media studies.
A few of Wagner’s items moved to the war-torn Central African Republic and helped Prigozhin take management of the profitable commerce in “blood diamonds,” based on the France-based All Eyes on Wagner analysis group.
Other than Solidar, the southeastern area of Donbass is Ukraine’s treasure trove of mineral wealth, metallurgical and chemical vegetation.
“Donbass is wealthy in uncooked supplies, and its industrial complicated may also be used,” Alexei Koch, a Kyiv-based analyst, informed Al Jazeera.
“I feel essentially the most helpful prize is at stake — a spot in Russia’s political hierarchy,” Koch stated, referring to Prigozhin’s ambitions to achieve extra affect inside the Kremlin.