The owner of the Russian Wagner mercenary company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, continues to use reports of his mercenaries successes in the town of Soledar, Donetsk Oblast, to bolster Wagner’s reputation as an effective fighting force, U.S. think tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a Jan. 9 report.
Earlier on Jan. 9, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said that Russian forces had begun another major assault of Soledar after their previous attempt had failed.
The ISW said Wagner Group forces claimed to have captured territory within Soledar over the past few days, and many Russian sources have discussed the gains as indicators that Wagner mercenaries may soon encircle the town of Bakhmut.
In particular, combat footage widely circulated on social media on Jan. 9 shows Wagner mercenaries engaging in fierce small arms combat near the city administration building in central Soledar. Prigozhin has emphasized that, according to him, “exclusively” Wagner mercenary units are taking ground in Soledar and noted that the mercenaries are currently engaged in “fierce battles for the city administration building.”
According to the ISW, Prigozhin will continue to use both confirmed and fabricated successes in Soledar and Bakhmut to promote his mercenary company as the only Russian force in Ukraine capable of securing tangible gains.
Other key takeaways by ISW analysts:
· Russian dictator Vladimir Putin continues to open the door to further institutionalized corruption in Russia through domestic legislation manipulations;
· Russian Security Council Deputy Chairperson Dmitry Medvedev likely gauged the willingness of the Russian information space for the censorship of figures deemed as pro-Ukrainian sympathizers, garnering some acceptance from the nationalist milblogger community;
· Russian and Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line;
· Ukrainian partisans may be targeting critical Russian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) in rear areas of Luhansk Oblast;
· Russian forces conducted ground attacks across the Donetsk Oblast frontline and made gains around Soledar and Bakhmut;
· Russian forces continued to reinforce positions on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast;
· Russian forces continued to construct defensive fortifications and transport military equipment in Zaporizhzhya Oblast amid continued concerns over a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive in the area;
· Russian and Ukrainian sources indicated that a second wave of mobilization may be imminent or ongoing.