While Wagner mercenaries continue their slow grind down in Soledar, Ukrainian forces have their own slow grind around Kreminna. Here’s the main war fronts at the moment:
Bakhmut is important because if Ukrainians fall back, the next town over will be leveled to the ground. It has no real strategic value. It just pushes the flattened front line a few kilometers west.
Kreminna (pre-war population, 18,000) is strategically important for two major reasons: it opens up a southern approach to Svatove and, beyond that, Starobilsk. If Ukraine takes those towns, it cuts Russia’s largest supply line feeding its war effort, from Belgorod, Russia.
Kreminna is also the gateway to the three cities of Rubizhne, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk. As you can see on the map, Kreminna severs the road down from Svatove. That’s step one. If Ukraine can liberate Starobilsk, then that cluster of cities will have to be resupplied by a single road from the southeast—a road that also helps supply … Bakhmut. Russia’s rickety supply lines would be stressed even further.
That’s the difference between Ukraine’s war strategy and Russia’s. There’s a point to Ukraine’s actions—it is working to cut Russia’s struggling logistical lines. There’s no point to Russia’s, beyond ridiculous and useless war propaganda.
With Russia fully dug in and defending a shrinking swatch of occupied territory, the kind of massive gains we saw in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts last year are unlikely until Ukraine receives the heavy armor currently being pledged. But that doesn’t mean it can’t methodically make gains. And that’s what we’re seeing around Kreminna.
Here is Mark Sumner’s latest map of Kreminna.
As you might immediately note, Mark has put southwest Kreminna into contested territory. There has been much chatter, though certainly no confirmation, that Ukrainian forces have a foothold in that corner of the town. Ukrainian general staff has been cagey, reporting fending off Russian attacks in Kreminna, without offering any more specificity as to what exactly they’re talking about. It could be Ukrainian troops are holding positions inside Kreminna, right outside it, or it could be “in the vicinity of” Kreminna. Here’s yesterday morning report, which referred to the Kreminna “axis”:
Lymanskyi axis: Makiivka, Ploshanka, Nevske, Kreminna, Dibrova and Chervonopivka of the Luhansk Oblast came under fire.
In today's evening update, General Staff wrote that “the enemy fired at districts of more than 10 settlements. Among them are … Kreminna.” Don't ask me what that means, exactly. It’s likely supposed to be purposefully vague. My guess is that while Ukrainian elements might have probed some of those edge neighborhoods in Kreminna, that most of the work remains in the town’s surrounding woods, working to surround the town and thus, like in so many other places, force the retreat or surrender of its Russian garrison.
Those woods are certainly different than the moonscaped open fields we see around Bakhmut. The Kreminna forests have featured heavily in videos these last several weeks.
And yet another one:
Looking at Mark’s map, we’re seeing something that hasn’t happened in a while—the formation of a salient. By all indications, Ukrainian forces are advancing from the north and east. There’s some question as to what presence Ukraine has in the forests south of Kreminna, but there’s no doubt Ukraine will want to advance on that side as well, squeeze Russia’s defenders inside the town and force them to retreat.
There’s a video above about a captured Russian T-90M, Russia’s most advanced tank in the battlefield. Yesterday, a Russian telegram channel posted an interview of a tank maintenance facility servicing five T-90Ms.
The facility was promptly geolocated to next-door Rubizhne, and if all is going well, the warehouse has been HIMAR’d into rubble. Regardless, this proves that as much as Wagner is spilling blood around Bakhmut, this is where Russia sees the biggest threat. Not only are they fielding their remaining top-end armor here, but there’s been reports of Russian VDV airborne forces at Kreminna as well.
At this point, it’s hard to not see the VDV as cursed, harbingers of Russian doom. They were first deployed in the assault toward Kyiv, where they suffered catastrophic losses. Then they were sent to Kherson, where they faced their second humiliating retreat. And now they’re at Kreminna, where things are looking increasingly bleak for them.
Down around Bakhmut, Wagner mercenary forces took the train station at Silj, on Soledar’s western edge. That completes Russia’s conquest of Soledar (pre-war population: 10,000). Ukrainian forces have moved to their next line of defense—the bluffs overlooking Soledar:
And therein lies Wagner/Russia’s next challenge—how to keep its depleted and tired forces moving forward, with even longer supply lines, against yet another defensive line, and another after that, and another. All on a series of high-ground ridges overlooking their advances over yet more open ground. There aren’t that many prison fodder left to keep this up.
Meanwhile, Soledar itself remains a Wagner killing field.
I’ve already posted this, but it’s a rare daytime view of a HIMARS strike:
It’s all so bloody, and frustrating. But utterly strategically meaningless. So if you find yourself stressing over Soledar/Bakhmut, this meme is for you:
(Gesture of goodwill is pointing to Snake Island.)