Battle in Ukraine suggests divide among pro-Russian forces

It comes after Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the notoriously vicious Wagner mercenary group in Russia, declared that only his forces participated and claimed that his fighters had complete control there.

The struggle for Soledar, a town in east Ukraine north of Bakhmut that has recently been the scene of conflict, is being fought by Russian soldiers, according to the Russian defence ministry.

Any success will almost certainly be used by Mr. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of Wagner mercenary group to enhance Wagner’s standing as a powerful combatant in the eyes of Russian President Putin.

The notorious oligarch’s assertions, however, appeared to be refuted by the Russian defence ministry.

A battalion of the Russian Airborne Forces has blockaded Soledar from the north and the south, according to military spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

“The Russian Air Force is carrying out strikes on enemy strongholds. Assault troops are taking part in battles inside the town.” Wagner forces were not mentioned.

The fierce battle has continued, according to Wednesday’s statement from the Ukrainian defence ministry, and Wagner forces have been unsuccessful in breaching Ukrainian defences.

If Soledar loses, Mr. Prigozhin will benefit. 

He boasted that “no other units took part in the storming of Soledar except from Wagner” in a statement issued on Tuesday night. 

Wagner units represent a significant portion of the forces engaged in combat in the region, according to Ukrainian and US sources.

Long-standing conflicts between the military and Wagner have been discussed by analysts, and Mr. Prigozhin has openly criticised generals for apparently lacking perspective on the realities of the fight in Ukraine.

Although it is difficult to determine for certain whether there is infighting in the centers of power, there are certain red flags.

Colonel-General Alexander Lapin was named as the Ground Forces’ Chief of Staff, according to a report from the news agency Tass published yesterday. 

Gen. Lapin was one of those criticised by Mr. Prigozhin last year, according to sources cited by Russian media, thus the announcement of his post was made as a warning to the oligarch. 

Military commentators contest Soledar’s strategic importance. 

But it will undoubtedly be a symbolic success for the Kremlin if Russian soldiers do manage to take complete control of the town. 

This is due to the fact that since the summer of 2022, Moscow’s forces have not succeeded in capturing a single important town from Ukrainian forces.

READ MORE: UK claims Russia has seized control of town in Eastern Ukraine amid ‘bloodbath’