Russia claims control of Soledar in eastern Ukraine, its first victory in months

Although of little intrinsic value, Soledar is at a strategic point about 10 km north of Bakhmut, which Russian forces aim to encircle.

Taking Bakhmut could disrupt Ukrainian supply lines and open a path for Russian forces to move towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the main Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province.

“The salt mines are located in strategically important underground tunnels – there is a 200 km (124 mile) network of tunnels in this area, British intelligence foundand they say these tunnels are a battlefield: whoever goes through them can quite effectively infiltrate behind enemy lines,” Samuel Ramani, an expert in politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told NBC News.

“The next step would be to advance on Bakhmut but they would have to surround the town and they still have problems with that.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said in its latest daily briefing that “Russian forces likely control most if not all of Soledar.”

But this “is not an operationally significant development and is unlikely to portend an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut,” the institute added.

And even if Russian forces captured Bakhmut, many analysts aren’t sure that would be a turning point.

“Capturing Soledar, or even Bakhmut, will not compensate for the losses suffered by Russia, including those of Kherson for example,” said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at security consultancy Le Beck International.

Speaking at a White House press briefing on Thursday, National Security Coordinator John Kirby also downplayed the significance of the fight.

“Even if Bakhmut and Soledar fall into Russian hands…it won’t have a strategic impact on the war itself,” he said.

“And that’s certainly not going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in their efforts to regain their territory.”

The true value of capturing Soledar may not be on the battlefield.

“I think the value of towns like Bakhmut or Soledar is much more symbolic,” Horowitz said.

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