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January 13, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news
By Kathleen Magramo, Jack Guy, Kathryn Snowdon and Aditi Sangal, CNN
Additional aid from the United States and other allied countries is critical for the Ukrainian military which is engaged in "very difficult" fighting, Ukraine's Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova said Friday.
"Every day is an opportunity to be a turning point and this capability is that we really need now — from the battle tanks to armored vehicles to more air defense, to more firepower to longer-range missiles — all of that could make the turning point closer," she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
The administration announced a new $2.85 billion drawdown for Ukraine last week, part of more than $3 billion in new military assistance to Ukraine. The drawdown will include "Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface-to-air missiles, ammunition, and other items to support Ukraine as it bravely defends its people, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity," according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Markarova said Ukraine has already shown that it is “capable of liberating the territories" with fewer resources. But that the new assistance will lead to more advances on the battlefield.
“We have very high trust in our capable armed forces – and our defenders already have shown that they are making the right decisions and they are doing pretty much everything at the right time," Markarova said of the ongoing fighting in places like Soledar and Bakhmut, which she described as "difficult."
She added there is “no doubt in our mind that in just a matter of time when we will win, regardless of how it might look from one day to another.”
Some background: Russia claimed Friday its forces had taken the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv denied the claims.
New video from the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar shows a massive explosion at a building that appears to have been a shelter for Russian troops.
The video shows between a dozen and 20 soldiers walking along a railroad track before turning along a street on the northern outskirts of the town.
After they reach a building with a distinctive green roof, the explosion destroys the building, with debris flying upwards.
The video has been geolocated by CNN. A longer version of the video has been posted by a Ukrainian soldier in the area. The soldier, with the codename Madiar, is a commander in a Ukrainian aerial reconnaissance unit.
He provides a commentary over the video, saying, "There are 10 of them. There are 10 more here. And all of them obviously going in the same direction. They are settling in. In groups of 20+ people. In the houses. On the outskirts of Soledar."
"In the morning we've been watching this place," he says. "There was some kind of activity there. Something was being loaded and unloaded."
He describes the building with the green roof as "some kind of a headquarters for them."
Madiar says there should be at least 25 Russian soldiers there.
He then asks: "What should we do? HIMARS or MLRS?" before the explosion is seen.
HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) is a lighter wheeled artillery system capable of firing many of the same types of ammunition as MLRS, which stands for a Multiple Launch Rocket System.
HIMARS artillery provided by the United States has proved an accurate and powerful weapon for Ukrainian forces.
Members of Ukraine’s 46th Air Assault Brigade on Friday said they were "hanging on" in Soledar, the town in Donetsk that has been under relentless Russian attack for weeks.
"We're hanging on," a post on the 46th Brigade's Telegram channel said. "But we are being surrounded. Heavy fighting continues inside the city." The post continued: "Apparently, the orcs [Russians] were able to cut off those who were near the railway station and Mine 7 and are making efforts to consolidate the encirclement.”
A Ukrainian solder in the vicinity of Soledar told CNN Friday that he believed he and his comrades had been left to surrender.
“It's easier to leave us to surrender than to put effort into a breakthrough,” the soldier, whom CNN is not naming for security reasons, said on the phone. “It means more casualties ... Our units are being systematically pushed to the city center [by Russian forces] and split from each other.”
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed earlier Friday to have conquered Soledar, which had a pre-war population of just under 10,000.
The soldier in Soledar told CNN he expected a repeat of Russia’s conquest of Mariupol early in the war, when a group of soldiers held out in the city’s steel works.
“The same happened in Mariupol,” the soldier told CNN. “I'm 100% sure it will be like this with us. We will be left here, the Orcs [Russians] will take captive whom they can. Then we might be exchanged.”
“We will not be able to hide for long,” he said. “We are now in basements and houses. Shooting and firefights are everywhere. Even at night.”
"The Russians conduct the cleansing sweep of those they surrounded in the northwest," of the town, he said.
The soldier added a recent Ukrainian reinforcement unit had approached the town without any equipment and had immediately come under fire.
The exact situation in the town is difficult to ascertain. The same brigade, on Facebook, said that fighting was ongoing only “on the outskirts” of the town and spoke about the battle in the past tense.
“The fighting in Soledar was fierce and ruthless,” it said on Facebook.
The brigade said Russian forces focused on seizing Soledar only for a propaganda victory once they realized a months-long assault on Bakhmut would fail.
“It took almost six months for the Russian occupiers to realize the inefficiency and futility of their attempts to storm Bakhmut. Therefore, since the beginning of the year they have shifted their combat activity to Soledar to divert media attention from the failures in the Bakhmut direction," the Facebook statement read. “Our brigade withstood these extremely difficult challenges with dignity."
"Fighting on the outskirts of Soledar continues," the statement read, a message echoed by the Ukrainian military's General Staff.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that it's a sign of failure for Moscow that there is Russian infighting about who deserved the most credit for “tactical advancement” in the town of Soledar.
“324 days of full-scale war, and how everything has changed for Russia,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Friday. “They are already at each other's throats over who to attribute some tactical advancement to.”
“This is a clear signal of failure for the enemy. And this is another incentive for all of us to put more pressure on the occupier and to inflict greater losses on the enemy,” he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry on Friday claimed that it had captured the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar. The Ukrainian military said that battles for the town were ongoing.
“The difficult battle for Donetsk region continues,” Zelensky said. “The battle for Bakhmut and Soledar, for Kreminna, for other towns and villages of the east of our country continues.”
“Although the enemy has concentrated its greatest forces in this direction, our warriors – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, all defense and security forces – are defending the state,” he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry is crediting the private military company Wagner for spearheading the "direct assault" on Soledar after days of squabbles. While Russia said it is in control of the city in eastern Ukraine, officials in Kyiv say fighting is ongoing.
An international team of nuclear safety experts will travel to Ukraine next week to establish a presence at all of the country's nuclear power plants.
Catch up on the latest developments in the war:
- Kremlin claims Soledar: Russia's ministry of defense has claimed that forces took control of the town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine. It is of little strategic value, experts say, but would represent a symbolic victory for Vladimir Putin. But a Ukrainian official has said that this is "not true." Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesperson for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, told Ukrainian outlet RBC-Ukraine that "fighting is going on in the city."
- On the ground: Various units of the Ukrainian military detailed the "fierce fighting" happening in Soledar. Ukraine’s General Staff said troops are "holding a dense and solid defense line" while coming under "non-stop" attacks from assault unites of a private military company, Wagner.
- Importance of Soledar: Two days after citing only regular Russian forces for the attack on Soledar, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday credited Wagner for spearheading the "direct assault." This is the latest in the back-and-forth between the Ministry of Defense and the mercenary group. Moscow has struggled for months to attack Bakhmut from the east, but were it to capture Soledar, Russia would at least be able to approach the city from a different path.
- EU and US support for Ukraine: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged continued support for Ukraine, saying, the West needs to "keep increasing the pressure on Russia." She reaffirmed that the EU will back Ukraine "as firmly as on day one and as long as it takes," as the war comes closer to the one year mark. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Friday and emphasized that the US would continue providing economic and security support for Kyiv, according to a readout.
- Nuclear plant safety: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency will travel to Ukraine next week to set up a constant presence of safety experts at all of the country's nuclear power plants. While the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant already has IAEA team members on location, experts will also be stationed at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant in western Ukraine in "the coming days," the director of the IAEA said.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency will travel to Ukraine next week to set up a constant presence of safety experts at all of the country's nuclear power plants.
"Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will be in Ukraine next week to establish a continuous presence of nuclear safety and security experts at all the country’s nuclear power facilities, significantly stepping up the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help prevent a nuclear accident during the current military conflict," according to the statement from the UN's nuclear watchdog.
While the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant already has IAEA team members on location, experts will also be stationed at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant in western Ukraine in "the coming days." The IAEA said Grossi will travel to the South Ukraine and Rivne nuclear power plants — as well as to the Chernobyl site — to set up the missions of two IAEA members at each site.
Grossi will also meet with senior Ukrainian government officials in Kyiv to discuss setting up a repeatedly called-for nuclear safety and security protection zone around Zaporizhzhia.
“I remain determined to make the much-needed protection zone a reality as soon as possible. My consultations with Ukraine and Russia are making progress, albeit not as fast as they should. I remain hopeful that we will be able to agree and implement the zone soon,” Grossi said.
According to the statement, the Zaporizhzhia plant’s last remaining 330 kilovolt backup power line has been reconnected to the plant, after experiencing disconnections in the last week.
Grossi also "reiterated his serious concerns about the pressure that ZNPP staff are facing, with potential consequences for nuclear safety and security," according to the statement.
“The reduced ZNPP staffing levels combined with psychological stress due to the on-going military conflict and the absence of family members who fled the area have created an unprecedented situation that no NPP staff should have to endure,” he said.
Various units of the Ukrainian military on Friday insisted that the battle for the eastern town of Soledar is ongoing, refuting claims of capture by the Russian Ministry of Defense and Wagner private military company.
“Local battles continue in the city,” the 46th Airmobile Brigade said on Telegram Friday. “Orcs [Russians] are pressing from the outskirts to the center."
Ukraine’s General Staff on Friday posted a video from a soldier purportedly participating in the battle for Soledar, claiming that “fierce fighting” in the town was still ongoing as of 2:13pm local time Friday (7:13 a.m. ET).
“Right at this moment the fierce fighting is ongoing. Today is Friday, the 13th, what time is it? 14:13. We are right above the Soledar city center, here have a look,” the man, who uses the call-sign Madiar, says in the video, showing a video feed on a laptop. “You see the church? We see all the movements.”
Troops from the Armed Forces of Ukraine “are holding a dense and solid defense line,” he says. “Yes, the assault units of Wagner attack non-stop, because apparently this is a defining showcase for them, when they have to show some results to their employer. But we don't give a [expletive] about their plans. We are doing our job. We do it well. And we'll do it till the end. Until at least one single warrior is still holding one building in Soledar.”
“Please be patient,” he says, “And we will do our job with honor,” he added.
This post has been updated.
Two days after citing only regular Russian forces for the attack on the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday credited private military company Wagner for spearheading the "direct assault."
In a statement on its official Telegram channel, the defense ministry said that “offensive operations” were carried out by a “heterogeneous grouping of Russian troops according to a single plan” and that Wagner led the “direct assault.”
Some background on the back-and-forth: The Russian forces that were most responsible for the Soledar assault has become the subject of considerable controversy in recent days.
A defense ministry statement on Wednesday did not mention Wagner, saying that “Airborne Troops have blocked Soledar from the northern and southern parts of the city.”
Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, released a statement on Monday claiming that “Soledar was taken exclusively by Wagner PMC units.” On Thursday, a Wagner Telegram channel released a video purporting to show members of the Russian Airborne Forces, saying that they did not participate in the Soledar fight and that “the assault on the city of Soledar was carried out only by the forces of PMC Wagner.”
Sergey Markov, a pro-Kremlin Russian military blogger, opined on Telegram on Friday that the "public feud and semi-insults between the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and PMC Wagner” was damaging Russia and “must be stopped immediately.”
The defense ministry statement on Friday appeared to be an attempt at a détente.
“Offensive operations in this tactical direction, which ended with the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the capture of the city of Soledar, were carried out by a heterogeneous grouping of Russian troops according to a single plan, which provided for the solution of a complex of combat missions,” according to the statement.
“As for the direct assault on the city blocks of Soledar occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, this combat mission was successfully solved by the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault squads,” it added.
On the Ukrainian side, a top Ukrainian official on Friday characterized infighting among different factions of the Russian power establishment as a “sign of the beginning of the stunning end.” Officials have also denied the Russian claim that Moscow's forces have taken over Soledar.