Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.
Despite the unsubstantiated discourse of the western media about a possible “Ukrainian victory”, Russian forces continue to advance on the battlefield, obtaining important territorial gains and controlling strategic points that will be fundamental to defeat the Kiev’s neo-Nazi regime in the near future. In the second week of January, the city of Soledar was the main focus of the conflict, with Russian troops achieving total control of the region, imposing a great loss on the enemy.
On January 10, the Russian private military company Wagner Group notified that it had completely taken over the city of Soledar, neutralizing the enemy forces that were concentrated there. Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers died or were captured during the intense fighting. The head of the Wagner Group, Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, commented on the case in a public statement about the takeover of Soledar. Prigozhin emphasized that only the Wagner Group worked in the region, without support from any other combat unit of the Russian forces:
“Wagner units have taken control of all the territory of Soledar. I want to emphasize that no units other than the Wagner fighters took part in the assault on Soledar”, he said on January 10. The next day he made another statement, updating about the number of casualties and highlighting that the entire city is under Russian control. He estimates that around 500 Ukrainians were killed. He also stated that, as the enemy troops were neutralized and all civilians previously evacuated, there is no need to create a humanitarian corridor in Soledar.
“I want to repeat that Soledar has been fully liberated and cleared of Ukrainian army units (…) The Ukrainian troops that refused to surrender have been destroyed (…) The entire town is littered with the bodies of Ukrainian servicemen (…) There can be no word of any humanitarian corridor”, he added.
The victory in Soledar is undoubtedly important from a military point of view, as it guarantees Moscow’s forces a privileged geographical position, which will be very useful for the next stages of the conflict. By controlling Soledar, the Russians can cut off some of the most important supply routes for the Ukrainian forces that still occupy some regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic, such as Bakhmut, which is expected to be also fully liberated soon. In this way, by expelling the Ukrainian military from the city, the Russians significantly advance in the objective of consolidating the reintegration of Donetsk into the Russian Federation.
However, there is another important factor in this event, which is the weakening of Western propaganda about a possible “Ukrainian victory” or “counter offensive”. As Prigozhin emphasized, only Wagner Group was involved in the fighting in Soledar, while other Russian units were focused on other regions. Therefore, the Russians managed to control a key strategic zone using only the power of a private military company, without having to deploy any of the recently mobilized soldiers on the field.
This shows how Moscow, despite recently increasing the number of troops involved in combat, continues to employ only a small portion of its military capacity in the special operation. There are basically two reasons for adopting this strategy: the first and most important is to avoid civilian casualties, which inevitably increase when combat intensity is high; the second is to avoid heavy losses of troops and resources in exhausting battles. With this strategy, the Russians have achieved a slow but safe progress, without major losses of soldiers and resources, in addition to maintaining the lowest ratio of civilian casualties in a war since the WWI.
Indeed, if it was the Russian intention to advance devastatingly and control as many territories as possible in a short time, Moscow could allocate a large number of mobilized soldiers in the regions controlled by Ukraine, as well as further intensify the use of artillery and air power. But, on the contrary, Russian strategy is focused on bombing infrastructure and advancing on the ground with the minimum possible number of soldiers. Thus, deaths of both Russians and civilians are avoided.
In this sense, the victory in Soledar using only the potential of the Wagner Group shows how Moscow really maintains the military control of the conflict. By employing few resources and avoiding unnecessary casualties, important achievements have been made. While, on the other hand, the Ukrainians increasingly waste their resources, lose their soldiers and are unable to maintain any effective strategic planning, despite the support they receive from NATO.