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Russia and Ukraine fiercely fought Soledar, US Defense Secretary: At this moment it cannot be confirmed that the Russian army captured the town

Ukrainian servicemen fired at Russian positions with 120-mm mortars near the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. (11 January 2023)
Ukrainian servicemen fired at Russian positions with 120-mm mortars near the front line in Bakhmut, Donetsk region. (11 January 2023)

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar was a “very volatile” and “dynamic battle.” There are currently reports that the town has been captured by Russian troops.

“At this point, we cannot confirm this report,” Austin said Wednesday (Jan. 11) at a joint news conference with the U.S. State Department at the U.S. State Department with Japan’s defense and foreign secretaries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Secretary of Defense Austin, and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshi Hayashi and Japanese Defense Secretary Yasuichi Hamada attended a news conference after holding a consultation meeting at the headquarters of the US State Department in Washington. (11 January 2023)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US Secretary of Defense Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshi Hayashi and Japanese Defense Secretary Yasuichi Hamada attended a news conference after holding a consultation meeting at the headquarters of the US State Department in Washington. (11 January 2023)

The Russian and Ukrainian armies have put forward each other’s statements and rebuttals about who is currently controlling Soleidar.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary, said his forces had captured all parts of the mining town and killed 500 Ukrainian troops in fierce fighting.

Minutes later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the fighting was ongoing.

The Russian side “attempted to deceive parts of our town of Soledar … It seems to have fallen into the hands of Russia,” Zelensky said in a video address. “But the fighting continues. The Donetsk theater of operations is still holding out.

The Ukrainian General Staff said in a statement on Facebook that the Russian army suffered heavy losses. Russia has been trying to capture the town since last August because of its salt caves and proximity to Bakhmut.

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Intense conflict

The ground is one of the most intense areas of conflict, making it difficult to independently assess the situation on the ground.

Reuters reported that a Reuters photographer who had recently reached the edge of Soledal said she could see smoke rising over the town while artillery fire continued to hit. Ambulances are waiting to receive the wounded on the road from Soledar to Bakhmut.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the chief of the Russian army’s general staff, General Valery Gerasimov, took over the command of the Russian army’s joint forces in the Ukrainian region. General Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed commander-in-chief three months ago, is now Gerasimov’s deputy.

The move was “a sign of the growing situation facing Russia and a clear acknowledgment that the campaign was not meeting Russia’s strategic objectives,” the Defense Ministry said.

The Ministry of Defence also said on Twitter that ultra-nationalists and military bloggers dissatisfied with Gerasimov might be “extremely unhappy” to hear the news.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference Wednesday that Ukraine’s defensive battle in Bakhmut “once again shows the bravery of the Ukrainian army, who are fighting to defend their homeland,” and shows how critical it is to increase support for Ukraine.

“Our support is making a real difference on the ground, and at this critical moment in the war, we must go the extra mile and do more, faster,” he said. ”

Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said Tuesday night that the U.S. decision to train Ukrainian troops in the use of the Patriot missile defense system at Fort Sil, Oklahoma, proves that “Washington is de facto involved in the conflict in Ukraine.”

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According to a statement released by the Russian embassy, Antonov told journalists: “The real goal of this administration is to use Ukrainians as proxies to inflict as much damage as possible on the battlefield.”

Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the

Pentagon’s secretary of defense information said the U.S. would explore ways to “speed up the training timeline” so that Ukrainian servicemen could return to the battlefield as soon as possible.

In a nightly video address on Tuesday, Zelensky further appealed to the West for military aid. He said that before Russia escalates the war, it is of great significance to strengthen the Ukrainian army.

He also appeared at the Golden Globes ceremony Tuesday night and told the California-based movie stars in another video address: “There will be no World War III.

(This article draws on reports from AFP and Reuters.)

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