Key developments on Jan. 13:
- Russia shells Bakhmut area in eastern Donetsk Oblast over 200 times in past 24 hours
- Clashes between Russia's regular army and private mercenaries reflect a rift, says Danilov
- Russia tries to build 2-million strong army through waves of mobilization, Ukraine's intelligence says
- Defense Minister Reznikov confident Ukraine will receive tanks, fighter jets before Russia’s renewed assaults in spring
The Kremlin-backed Wagner mercenary group publicly accused Russia's Defense Ministry of stealing credit for what it claims to be a victory in the battle for the salt-mining town of Soledar near Bakhmut in the Ukrainian eastern Donetsk Oblast.
Ukraine denies the town was captured, saying the fierce battle is still ongoing.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Wagner, claimed that the group established control over the whole of Soledar and encircled Ukrainian forces in the center of the town back on Jan. 10.
Three days later, the Russian Defense Ministry also claimed that Soledar fell to Moscow control, however, without mentioning Wagner's involvement.
Shortly after the statement, Andrei Troshev, identified by the U.K. as a senior commander within Wagner Group, said that he was "surprised" by the statement, accusing the ministry of "demotivating" the mercenaries and "stealing other people's merits."
The public rift over the situation in Soledar hasn't gone unnoticed in Ukraine, with Mykhailo Podoliak, an advisor to the President's Office, saying on Twitter that the "public rumble" over "who is fighting better" in Soledar is "a good sign of the beginning of the stunning end."
On the same day, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksii Danilov told NV media outlet that the Russian army is no longer centralized and has no trust.
According to him, it is reflected by the fact that two military groups — Wagner and Chechen special forces — currently operate alongside the Russian regular army, with another group expected to join them soon. According to Danilov, Russian security forces would soon form their own private army.
The West also pointed out the Russian struggles in achieving its war objectives in Ukraine. Earlier on Jan. 12, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said that a decision by the Russian Defense Ministry to replace General Sergei Surovikin with Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov as commander of Russia's war against Ukraine indicates "systemic challenges" for Moscow.
"We've talked about some of those things in terms of its logistics problems, command and control problems, sustainment problems, morale, and the large failure to obtain the strategic objectives that they've set for themselves," Ryder said.
Battle for Soledar continues, Ukraine says
Despite Russian claims about taking control over Solelar, the battle for the town continues, Ukraine's General Staff of the Armed Forces said in its regular evening update on Jan. 13.
At the same time, Ukrainian military spokesperson Serhii Cherevatyi reported that the Russian forces shelled the Bakhmut area in the eastern Donetsk Oblast 212 times over the past 24 hours, while 31 firefights were also recorded.
According to preliminary data, 183 Russian troops were killed, and 137 were wounded in the battles for the area in the past 24 hours, Cherevatyi said.
"The Russians cannot break through the Ukrainian defenses and continue to lose personnel in their assaults," he added.
On the afternoon of Jan. 13, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, which has played an active role in the battle for Soledar alongside Ukraine's 46th Airmobile Brigade, posted photos of what it says was a successful strike near Bakhmut on a Russian assault group, killing nine and wounding 16.
Soledar is located 10 kilometers north of Bakhmut — a city Russia has tried to seize for over five months. The capture of Bakhmut would be Russia's biggest victory in months, after a number of failures and setbacks in Ukraine.
Russia looks to capture the area as part of its larger goal of taking control of the entirety of Donetsk Oblast, which it has partly occupied since 2014.
Russia tries to build 2-million army, Ukrainian intelligence says
While Russia is suffering significant losses in Ukraine the country is looking to build a two-million-strong army through mobilization waves, Ukraine's military intelligence reported. Mobilization set-ups, including legislative amendments and the preparation of educational centers, are already underway in Russia, the intelligence said.
According to the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forcres, Russia has lost 114,130 troops since the beginning of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Last week, Ukraine's intelligence said that Russia plans to launch a new wave of mobilization, calling up 500,000 conscripts for the war against Ukraine on Jan. 15, in addition to 300,000 already drafted since September.
Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine's deputy military intelligence chief, earlier said the conscripts would likely be sent to the front lines in the east and south of Ukraine and would be part of renewed Russian offensives in the spring and summer.
Both Ukraine and Russia seem to be preparing for new military operations in the spring.
Military Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov said Ukraine anticipates the "hottest" fighting in March as it plans "a major push" in the spring, and there may be further strikes "deeper and deeper" inside Russia.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told BBC that he was confident Ukraine would receive tanks, and fighter jets before the "renewed assaults from Russia in the spring."
"We understand they'll be ready to start, and we have to be ready," he told BBC.