By David Sole
The town of Soledar lies in the northwest of the Donetsk province annexed by Russia in the Ukraine conflict. Before the fighting between Ukraine and the Russian Federation Soledar had a population of over 11,000 people, but most of them have fled. On January 10, 2023 Russia claimed that the heavily defended town had fallen to Russian military forces, although there are some reports of close quarter fighting in the town’s center.
Soledar was part of a Ukraine defensive line that includes the city of Bakhmut just 6 miles to the south, where Russian forces have been locked in intense fighting with the Ukraine military for months. The fall of Soledar means that Russian troops are one step closer to surrounding the heavily defended Bakhmut stronghold which could lead to a collapse of the entire line of Ukrainian defense.
Reports out of Bakhmut in the western press have documented weakening of Ukraine’s ability to continue resisting the growing Russian pressure. The pro-Ukraine Kyiv Independent (reprinted in yahoo.com) had to admit that Ukrainian artillery was now receiving only one fifth of the artillery shells they had previously been able to count on. So Ukrainians were firing only around 1,200 shells per day. The Russians, according to this source, had been pounding Bakhmut with up to 60,000 rounds each day but had reduced their barrages to 20,000 due to “ineffective logistics rather than the physical absence of munitions in Russia’s stockpile.”
The AP News reported on January 11 “Russian forces are escalating their onslaught against Ukrainian positions around the wrecked city of Bakhmut.” While Ukrainian officials make unverified claims of enormous Russian losses on the battlefield, the Ukrainians, outgunned in artillery almost 10 to 1, “arrive around the clock for emergency treatment at a Ukrainian medical stabilization center near the front line around Bakhmut.”
Although some western analysts deny any strategic value to Bakhmut, others admit “taking Bakhmut would disrupt Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk.”
The overall military situation does not favor Ukraine. Russia’s announced aims in their February 24 “Special Military Operation” were to stop Ukraine from becoming a NATO military threat on their western border and to demilitarize Ukraine, which had been working with NATO for 8 years to build up a powerful pro-U.S. army. The third goal was to protect the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine from the constant military attacks that followed the 2014 Maidan right-wing coup. Over 14,000 people in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces had died from these attacks.
Most journalists in the western media parrot the Pentagon/State Department rosy picture and Ukrainian propaganda. Occasionally a report surfaces that admits the grim truth facing Ukraine..
An article in “Russia Matters,” a publication of the Harvard Kennedy School for Science and International Affairs dated December 22, 2022, made some important admissions. Alex Vershinin, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant-Colonel, wrote that Ukraine “suffered frightful losses and depleted key stockpiles of equipment and ammunition” during its much touted fall offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv provinces. There is still capacity to replace losses and establish new combat formations but those are rapidly withering…the Russian side is more likely to achieve its goals of draining Ukrainian resources while preserving its own.”
On the other hand, Vershinin notes “The Ukrainians’ terrain-focused war of maneuver is constrained by…limited artillery ammunition and equipment production…Ukraine started the war with 1,800 artillery pieces…by now this artillery is mostly out of ammunition…many of which are destroyed or breaking down…Meanwhile, Western nations are themselves running out of ammunition…Ukraine simply cannot go toe to toe with Russia in artillery battles.”
It remains to be seen if either side launches a winter offensive, opening up a new confrontation. Ukraine earlier announced its desire to cut the Russian land bridge to Crimea. Whether they can marshal enough reserves and equipment to make a serious push in the southern direction is questionable.
Russia, having withdrawn to the east bank of the Dnieper and abandoned Kherson city, is not likely to resume fighting on that front. And the Russians are currently fully engaged in the Donetsk region. A new front could be opened up in the south-central Zaporizhzhya region heading deep into central Ukraine. Russia certainly has been increasing its troop levels all across the Ukraine front with the callup of over 300,000 military reservists.
The shakeup of the high command of the Russian Federation military in Ukraine just announced in the new year makes it difficult to predict the thinking of the Russian general staff. Only time will tell.