Explained: Why Soledar is tactically important to Russia

It was one of the locations from which Ukrainian forces bombarded northwestern Donetsk and nearby communities. The seizure of Soledar is a tactical victory for the Russians but not a turning point in a special operation.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Recently, Russia reported that it had conquered significant portions of Soledar, formerly Karlo-Libknekhtovsk, a city in the Bakhmut Raion in the Donetsk region. The Ukrainian administration has described the country’s condition in the area as “very tough.” The conflict continues. The Ukrainian government has dispatched reinforcements to reclaim lost territory. Soledar would become the first city taken by Russia in the Donbas coal region since the summer should the Ukrainians fail.

Soledar’s location, approximately 15 kilometres (9 miles) northeast of Bakhmut, the region’s administrative capital, makes it a military stronghold. Since Russia’s military invasion began on February 24, 2022, Soledar and Bakhmut have been under relentless attack. Since the summer, Russian forces, mainly mercenaries from the private militia known as the Wagner Group, have been attempting to seize Bakhmut. Their first growth was sluggish, but that drastically altered in January. Should Soledar fall, the possibility of encircling Bakhmut would increase enormously.

From 1938 to 2016, Bakhmut was known as Artemivsk, after Comrade Artyom, a communist leader and close associate of Josef Stalin. Bakhmut is also of crucial strategic importance. The city is located on the E40 highway, midway between the second-largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv, and the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Taking Bakhmut would provide Russian troops with a direct route west to places such as Kramatorsk, a significant industrial and administrative hub in the Donetsk region currently under Ukrainian control. Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the seizure of the entire region as one of the primary objectives of the operation. Only 50 kilometres (30 miles) separate Bakhmut from Kramatorsk. However, the Ukrainian army has prepared multiple defensive lines along the stretch. Many experts from Ukraine and other countries believe that the collapse of Bakhmut would not necessarily be immediately decisive, even if it occurred immediately.

After suffering a devastating defeat at the hands of Russia-backed separatists at the strategically crucial transportation hub of Debaltseve in the winter of 2015, the Ukrainian army withdrew to Bakhmut. A command and control facility was established in Soledar in the fall of 2014 by military personnel from Russia and Ukraine in collaboration with personnel from the multinational Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This was implemented to allow observers to monitor and oversee the so-called Minsk accord ceasefire. The truce was never completely implemented, and Russia’s representatives withdrew from the conflict in 2017.

Salt Mines of Soledar

The salt mines of Soledar have gained a lot of fame. Mines for table salt have been operating in the city since the late 19th century when this part of the world was still a part of the Russian Empire. In 1965, the settlement received city status, and the name Karlo-Libknekhtovsk was bestowed upon it in honour of Karl Libknecht, a co-founder of the German Communist Party. Since 1991, the city has been known by its Russian name, Soledar, which literally translates to “gift of salt.” A population of over 10,000 people called the city home before the Russians overran it. Bakhmut had seven times the number of people living there. At the beginning of 2014, the separatists Russia supported were in control of both cities; nevertheless, Ukrainian forces eventually successfully retook the cities’ control.

Before the invasion, 90% of Ukraine’s salt was provided by the state-owned corporation Artemsil, headquartered in Soledar. As a direct consequence of the invasion by Russia, Ukraine now needs to acquire salt from other countries. Prior to the start of the war, the city’s salt mines were a popular destination for vacationers. Tours were 200-300 metres (660-990 ft) below the city’s surface. It is estimated that the total length of Soledar’s underground tunnels is approximately 300 kilometres. One tunnel is spectacular, measuring 30 metres in height, 14 metres in width, and over one kilometre in length.

Buried beneath the surface of Soledar are a museum, a chapel, sculptures made of salt crystals, a symphony hall, a soccer field, and a sanitarium that can treat up to one hundred people suffering from respiratory illness.

Bakhmut also has subterranean tunnels 70 metres below the surface, formerly chalk mines. These tunnels are used to create sparkling wine using the same methods that have been used for centuries. The grapes used to make this beverage was traditionally sourced from the Crimean Peninsula before Russia invaded the peninsula in 2014. Before the year 2022, Bakhmut was the location of one of the most successful sparkling wine producers in Eastern Europe. The city produces more than 25 million bottles of sparkling wine every year. It stopped after the Russian invasion in February 2022.

Not a turning point

The loss will exacerbate the difficulty of supplying the Ukrainian Armed Forces with essential equipment and food. The Ukrainian Armed Forces at Soledar were strengthened for eight years and were among the most combat-ready part of the Ukrainian army. It was one of the locations from which Ukrainian forces bombarded northwestern Donetsk and nearby communities. The seizure of Soledar is a tactical victory for the Russians on the battlefield, but it cannot be considered a turning point in a special operation. This is a commanding height from which a straight route to Artemovsk opens. From there – to Slavyansk, Kramatorsk, which the Ukrainians took back from the rebels in 2014.


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