Russia announces conquest of city in Ukraine and opens crisis with mercenaries

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Russia announces conquest of city in Ukraine and opens crisis with mercenaries

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced this Friday (13) that its Armed Forces have seized the strategic small town of Soledar, in Donetsk, providing a strategic springboard to try to control the entire province in eastern Ukraine.

There are still some resistance points reported in the city. “The situation is very difficult, this is the battle of Verdun of the 21st century,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Andrii Iermak, referring to the German attack on the western front in World War I designed to “bleed France to death” — which failed. .

Signs, however, are that Soledar did indeed fall, according to observers. An unexpected side effect, however, came from the powerful leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, opening up a military crisis under the wings of Vladimir Putin.

Yevgeny Prigojin had posted a photo inside one of the salt mines that are famous for the village, which had 10,000 inhabitants before the war, on Wednesday (11), claiming to have taken it only with his forces —composed of many expelled convicts of Russian chains.

“Putin’s chef”, a nickname from the time when his company took care of the Kremlin’s food services, released an unusual note after the announcement by the ministry led by his rival Serguei Choigu, who never mentions Wagner.

“They constantly try to steal the victory from the Wagner Group, and try to diminish its merits. Infighting, corruption, bureaucracy and authorities clinging to their chairs are a significant threat to the existence of [do grupo]”, said.

On Wednesday, Prigojin saw an ally, General Serguei Surovikin, lose the post of commander of the Russian military campaign to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Valeri Gerasimov —one of the main targets of “Putin’s boss” and another exponent of hardliners with their own forces in Ukraine, Chechen leader Ramzam Kadyrov.

The stir is more political than military, so much so that Surovikin remains in the war as 1 of 3 deputies to Gerasimov. On top of that, Putin now has a Defense figurehead to blame if things go wrong.

Another assessment is that the new chief, who is the number 3 of the Armed Forces after the president and the minister, has greater authority as an authority in case the forces of the dictatorship of Belarus, in the north of Ukraine, enter the war on the side of Russia — as several movements in recent weeks suggest.

The treatment given to the Wagner Group, seen as brutal but of questionable tactical efficiency in Ukraine, shows that Putin continues with his policy of encouraging rivalries among subordinates, remaining in an imperial position.

Politics aside, the conquest of Soledar, if confirmed, is an important victory for the Russians not only for the control of the rich salt mines in the place. From there, it will in theory be possible to cut off supplies to Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, a city 10 times their size that lies 15 km southwest of there.

Since October, Bakhmut has been the center of what the Ukrainian military calls the Donetsk meat grinder, with sky-high casualties across. The city, says President Volodymir Zelensky, has been reduced to ruins.

If it falls, Putin’s chances of winning the perhaps remaining 45% of Donetsk that are not in his hands are greatly increased, according to Moscow-based military analyst Ivan Barabanov. The region is 1 of 4 illegally annexed by the Kremlin in September, and together with Lugansk makes up Donbass, the most Russian-speaking area in Ukraine after Crimea —it was absorbed by Russia in 2014.

Not everyone thinks so. Analyst Michael Kofman, from the CNA think-tank (Arlington, USA), says that the cost in lives and material of the offensive could exhaust the Russian effort, despite the gradual influx of the 320 recruits called up at the end of last year. On the other hand, he points out, the same can happen with the Ukrainians, who do not have such mobilization capacity.

“Even if Bakhmut and Soledar fall, it will have no strategic impact on the war itself and will not stop the Ukrainians,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. He may be right in his first assertion, but his second is twisted: Kiev has struggled to make progress since having a winning streak between September and December.

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