Kremlin-controlled Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is using reports of the mercenary group's gains in and around Soledar in Donetsk Oblast as a way to promote the Wagner Group's reputation as an effective fighting force, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update.
The Wagner Group is Russia's most high-profile mercenary group and was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian oligarch, Putin confidant, and former convict.
On Jan. 9, Russian forces renewed their attempt to capture the town of Soledar, which has long been a target of Russia’s Bakhmut offensive in Donetsk Oblast, Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported.
Russian propagandists and military bloggers reported recently that Wagner had allegedly broken the front in Soledar and was fighting Ukrainian forces in the town. Wagner's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed that the group was about to capture Soledar. Russian sources have assessed Wagner's gains as indicators the group is about to encircle Bakhmut, located just next to Soledar, the ISW wrote.
The D.C.-based think tank also said combat footage had widely circulated on social media on Jan. 9 that shows Wagner Group fighters engaging in fierce small-arms combat near the city administration building in central Soledar.
Prigozhin reportedly said on Jan. 9 that "exclusively" Wagner Groups are making gains in Soledar, the ISW wrote, and that he "will continue to use both confirmed and fabricated Wagner Group success in Soledar and Bakhmut to promote the Wagner Group as the only Russian force in Ukraine capable of securing tangible gains."
Earlier on Jan. 7, Prigozhin said wanted his forces and the regular Russian army to capture Ukraine's eastern cities of Bakhmut and Soledar for its resources and "underground cities."