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The Ukraine Crisis: Situation Update: #18

Foreign Policy Brief #164 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | January 13, 2023

Header photo taken from: The Associated Press

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This is the 18th in a special US RENEW NEWS series that updates our readers on the latest developments in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Ukrainian servicemen on patrol in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine. Russian commanders have made the capture of Soledar a key objective in a campaign to take the nearby strategic city of Bakhmut and Ukraine's larger eastern Donbas region.

Photo taken from: EPA-EFE / MYKOLA TYMCHENKO

Battle for Soledar

As we approach the one year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022,  Ukranian troops are currently entrenched in heavy fighting in the small salt mining town of Soledar. The town lies at the center of the Donbas region, the vast eastern part Ukraine of which Russia has annexed as its own territory late last year. The two sides involved in the fighting for this town, however, are not both official military forces, rather, on the Russian side it is the infamous Wagner mercenary group fighting to capture the town. 

The military significance of Soledar itself is minimal, but it is only a few miles northeast of the larger city of Bakhmut, which Moscow has struggled to capture for months, and has become perhaps the most contested city in the on the eastern front. Capturing Soledar would provide an eastern entry into Bakhmut. and would be a symbolic PR win for the private military Wagner group and its owner- Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin- who has criticized the defense ministry’s management of the war in Ukraine and is likely attempting to position himself for a larger role in the war

Due to the intense fighting and non-state actors involved, getting clear and definitive information has been difficult. Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner group on Tuesday said that Wagner mercenaries were in total control of the town, yet the Kremlin had not claimed victory itself. Meanwhile Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said that Ukrainian forces were supplying troops with ammunition and food, describing the situation as “under control”. Conflicting claims from either side has been common throughout this conflict and with the addition of private military contractors it is likely information will become more obscure.

The Russian armed forces have had nothing to claim as victory since the beginning of July. In recent months, they have had to retreat in both Kharkiv to the north and Kherson in south. The capture of Soledar, despite its lack of importance strategically, and a path to the city of Bakhmut would therefore be something to uphold as a positive development in the Russian war effort that has until now been a near complete failure. Conversely, for Ukrainians, the ability to continue to hold out and repel Russian attacks in this small town claimed by the Kremlin as part of Russian territory as we near the one-year anniversary will represent a major victory.

New Year New War tactics

Western powers have promised to begin sending more advanced weaponry to Ukraine. France, Germany, and the US announced on Wednesday that they would be sending light armored fighting vehicles to the battlefield. These weapons are a sign of increasing armaments being sent to Ukraine, and though beneficial to the Ukranian effort, they are not likely to beat back the invading army and retake the Eastern territories lost in the Russian annexation. 

Ukrainian officials have been pushing for more heavy weaponry but Western powers have been hesitant in sending them.There are debates among officials about the extent to which Ukraine should be armed by the US, with some feeling more advanced weaponry may help bring about a swifter end to the now protracted war, and others believing arming Ukraine will only prolong fighting. 

There is of course also the danger that arming Ukraine with advanced weaponry would be seen as a provocation by Russia and cause an even further increase in hostilities.

Map taken from: Institute for the Study of War

(click or tap to enlargen)

Russia in its latest military shake up has appointed Valery Gerasimov as overall commander of the war. Gerasimov  played key role in Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and in Russia’s military support for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War. The Kremlin had recently appointed a new commander in October but in light of a host of defeats by the Russian army the previous commander was demoted. 

Gerasimov’s appointment is a sign the Kremlin seeks to intensify the war and reverse the course of its string of defeats. Whatever course of actions are taken in the coming weeks and months, 2023 thus far seems to be a year that will see continued conflict in Ukraine.

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