As of the night of 11 January, Soledar was at finest underneath partial management of the Wagner group of mercenaries, in keeping with an evaluation by the US-based Institute for the Study of War and the UK Ministry of Defence.
Regardless of the end result, this explicit battle — and a number of different developments round it — is instructive for a broader understanding of where the war in Ukraine is and where it may be headed.
Three explicit classes stand out. First, even small territorial positive factors are enormously pricey in personnel and materiel, and they’re solely achievable after protracted preventing that inflicts vital losses on either side and ties up substantial sources. If Russia is finally in a position to seize Soledar, it is going to achieve this solely after razing the city to the floor.
Controlling Soledar will, if something, solely be a stepping stone in the direction of the a lot larger prize of close by Bakhmut, one of the final massive cities in Donetsk oblast that has not been captured by Russia.
Yet, right here Ukrainian forces stay firmly in management. Even if Russia have been to succeed with its efforts in Soledar, the predicted collapse of Ukrainian defences in the Donetsk area or a strategic withdrawal are on no account foregone conclusions.
The second perception that may be gleaned from the battle for Soledar and the broader context during which it takes place is that either side preserve maximalist goals and appear typically unwilling to interact in efforts in the direction of a negotiated settlement.
This is regardless of a latest assembly between the human rights commissioners of Russia and Ukraine, Tatiana Moskalkova and Dmytro Lubinets, in Ankara at which one other prisoner change was agreed and during which either side agreed to proceed their humanitarian dialogue.
From the Russian perspective, the large onslaught towards Soledar — and the ongoing battles elsewhere alongside the frontline between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk oblast are extraordinarily pricey in phrases of troops and munition.
They solely make sense if the Kremlin’s purpose stays the occupation of all of the 4 areas Russia annexed after sham referendums again in September.
As preventing has intensified on the floor, so it has between completely different Russian political factions. On the one hand, the assault on Soledar was led by forces of the Wagner group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an in depth ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin could have been, partly, motivated by the prospect of having access to the close by salt and gypsum mines. But he additionally used his obvious success on the battlefield to shore up his affect in Putin’s internal circle.
He has not held again from scathing criticism of the efforts of the high brass of the Russian army.
While Prigozhin could but win the battle over Soledar, he misplaced the arguably extra political battle when his shut ally Sergei Surovikin — the predominant architect of the marketing campaign to destroy crucial Ukrainian infrastructure — was changed on 11 January by the chief of the Russian normal workers, Valery Gerasimov, as general commander for the war in Ukraine.
Gerasimov was the architect of the unique Russian invasion again in February final 12 months. So his appointment is one other sign that Putin has not given up on his maximalist war goals.
This, in flip, raises the spectre of the opening of a second entrance in the war. During a go to to the western Ukrainian metropolis of Lviv, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned once more of the risks of an invasion from Belarus.
In gentle of just lately beefed-up defence cooperation between Moscow and Minsk and deliberate joined army workout routines at the finish of January, this stays a major menace to Ukraine.
Surovikin’s substitute with Gerasimov additionally comes at a time when the relentless marketing campaign of drone and missile assaults towards Ukraine seems to have ended — with out reaching its purpose of breaking Ukrainians’ defensive spirit.
This could partly point out depleted Russian shares of weapons and ammunition. But — along with the intensifying floor battles in Donbas — it additionally signifies a renewed Russian concentrate on the floor war and the expectation of future territorial positive factors.
Putin’s modifications in the army management additionally foreshadow a probable Russian offensive, both in Donbas alone or in Donbas and opening a second entrance from Belarus.
This has given the Kremlin a major pool of manpower and the time to regroup forces and prepare and combine newly mobilised troops. Together with the prevailing superiority of Russian artillery and air energy, it will afford Gerasimov a possible benefit in future offensives.
The third — and longer-term — lesson, subsequently, is the want for extra western help. Commitments to ship extra air defence techniques and battlefield autos to Ukraine are an essential step.
Once delivered, it additionally indicators that the West stays firmly behind Ukraine’s defence efforts and is backing Kyiv in its purpose of restoring full territorial integrity.
But, given how sluggish western deliveries have been at instances, British, Polish, French and doubtless German army provides are unlikely to affect the end result of the present battle over Soledar.
On steadiness, then, the occasions in and round Soledar over the previous week illustrate that regardless of the end result of the present preventing, this is not a turning level. It’s one other robust indication that the war is doubtless going to be lengthy and pricey.