Russia said on Friday that its forces had taken control of the salt-mining town of Soledar in eastern Ukraine overnight after days of relentless fighting, claiming Moscow's first big battlefield gain after half a year of military setbacks.
Reuters could not immediately verify the situation in the town. Earlier on Friday, Kyiv said fighting was still continuing there after what it described as a "hot" night.
Russia said the capture of Soledar would make it possible to cut off Ukrainian supply routes to the larger nearby city of Bakhmut, and trap remaining Ukrainian forces there. Russia has been trying to seize Bakhmut for months in brutal warfare.
"The capture of Soledar was made possible by the constant bombardment of the enemy by assault and army aviation, missile forces and artillery of a grouping of Russian forces," Moscow's defence ministry said.
Kyiv says Russia threw wave upon wave of soldiers and mercenaries into a pointless fight for a bombed-out wasteland at Soledar and U.S. officials said a Russian victory there, or even in Bakhmut, would make little difference to the overall war.
Soledar, with a pre-war population of just 10,000, sits above cavernous salt mines. Bakhmut, ten times larger, is a substantial provincial district hub.
"Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians, it's not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself," U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House on Thursday, "and it certainly isn't going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down."
The Wagner ultra-nationalist mercenary company run by an ally of President Vladimir Putin had claimed to have captured Soledar on Wednesday, but until now Russia's defence ministry had stayed silent.
"The night in Soledar was hot, battles continued," Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
"The enemy threw almost all the main forces in the direction of Donetsk and maintains a high intensity of offensive. Our fighters are bravely trying to maintain the defence," she said, referring to the Donetsk region which includes Soledar.
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