The Ukrainian salt-mining town of Soledar, located in the Donbas region continues to be fought over despite claims from Moscow that the town had been seized. Yevgeny Prigozhin the founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, and a close ally to President Vladimir Putin, asserted that Russian forces were in control of the Ukrainian town. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy maintained on Monday that both Bakhmut and Soledar were still in Ukrainian control despite the major destruction caused. Such reports were backed by a commander of the Ukrainian air reconnaissance group, Robert Magyar, who claimed that the battle rages on and that Russian claims were “psychological pressure and propaganda.” The battle for Soledar has been gruelling for both sides as they have partaken in some of the most intense fighting since the war began eleven months ago. This increase in violence can be attributed to the use of Russian militia groups, such as Wagner, whose fighters are known to have been recruited from prisons and are infamous for their indiscriminate and brutal use of violence.
Scenes on the battlefield can be described as gruesome and hellish as Russian corpses are scattered in heaps. Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar commented that “the enemy literally step over the corpses of their own soldiers.” Similar reports come from Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov who notes that many “Russian fighters remain on the battlefield either dead or wounded” and that “no one is coming to help them or to collect the dead.”
Zelenskyy seems hopeful that weaponry from Western allies will be provided soon to aid the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian mercenaries. France, Germany and the United States are among those who have agreed to send fighting vehicles. According to a Sky News report, Britain is considering sending tanks to Ukraine for the first time since the war began.
Questions have arisen about why the capture of Soledar is so vital for the Russian side. It is true that taking over Soledar would signify Russia’s first feat in a string of notable losses, but military experts maintain that the win would not be considered a significant gain. Russia’s aim in capturing Soledar is to ultimately control the city of Bakhmut in an attempt to occupy the entirety of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas Region. However, Ukrainian military experts maintain that Bakhmut is heavily reinforced and would be an exceptional undertaking for Russian forces to impregnate.
The reason for this relentless battle by the Russians for Soledar can be understood when considering the motives and incentives of the Russian militia group Wagner. This group is inherently opportunistic and is fighting for a clear goal, namely the extraction of natural resources found in the salt mining town. The group’s goal is to profit, paying little attention to strategic military advancements. In addition to these gratuitous motives, the heinous nature of the group is cause for concern. These fighters, ex-prisoners who have been incentivised to fight, hold no concern for human loss. This is evident from the number of Russian corpses strewn across the battlefield due to the ongoing fighting which has occurred over the course of this week. The use of militias in warfare is dangerous and must be condemned. A country’s national military’s responsibility is to achieve strategic military goals while minimising the number of causalities. However, Russia has no intention to proceed with that course of action. Groups such as Wagner allow the Kremlin to distance itself from the use of extreme violence and to benefit from any military advancements that come from it.
The disheartening truth is that this war rages on and there are no signs it will end anytime soon. However, conversations have begun surrounding the rebuilding of Ukraine and the future prospects of the country after the war. More importantly, talks surrounding Ukraine’s membership into NATO continues. It’s hoped that the war will end with peaceful negotiations that will not only aid the ending of the war but ensure that peace will prevail for the two countries well into the post-war era.