Soledar’s capture would mark “an end to Russia’s series of declines”

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The capture of Soledar was claimed by Moscow and rejected by Kyiv, which acknowledged the difficult phase of the war and the Russian offensive was of high intensity. What are the stakes in this battle for Russia? Explanation by Cyrille Bret, researcher at the Jacques-Delors Notre-Europe Institute.

RFI: What are the stakes in this battle for Russia?

Cyrille Bret: Recapture of Soledar by Russian troops – if proven – would be the first real military success on the ground in six months now for the Russian command, which is intervening in an area the Russians regard as their stronghold. For them, it would completely end a series of setbacks they have suffered since the Ukrainian counterattack began in August. And this will be, in whatever way the authorities want to present it, the first step towards an offensive this winter, in particular an attack on the Donbass, in a very strategic area for the political project and for the military project of the Putin presidency. In fact, what was absolutely essential for the Russian authorities was first stemming the series of setbacks, then demonstrating that they were capable of retaking the cities, since most of the successes had been in less important areas, in areas that were empty, and to show that they are able, even under unfavorable conditions, to retake a territory.

that leadership Russia wants to mark a new momentum in its offensive in Ukraine. Does this battle bode well for even bigger offensives in the coming months?

Russia’s political system, administrative system, economic system and military system are in the process of reconfiguring themselves to carry out in 2023, within a few months, the grand offensive: a change in the military command towards greater professionalism, a change also in the management of the economic apparatus with the considerable development of State control, the repositioning of decision circles, and the clergy also with the return of patriarch Kirill to the front of the stage. All these elements of the economy, military, media, politics, religion, or at least the clergy are declaring a prolonged, very violent offensive from mid-winter and throughout the spring to try to achieve the success that Russia has not failed to achieve in 2022. And that is a sign very bad for the civilian population of Ukraine.

In a rare token of recognition, the Russian military on Friday praised the brave actions of fighters from the Russian mercenary group Wagner in Soledar. A ubiquitous presence in the media and in open competition with the Russian Defense Ministry, the head of the Wagner group Evgueni Prigojine has made no secret of his political ambitions…

The war in Ukraine and successive military setbacks opened up a question that remains taboo, namely succession. For more than two decades, President Putin has methodically undermined the emergence of real dolphins and this crisis opened up the possibility of competing expressions. We see it today with Evgueni Prigojine who put himself on stage as the man who endured the decline of the Russian military thanks to his private army company and he has now made his mercenary company no longer an instrument of remote intervention in Syria, in Libya , West Africa and Central Africa, but as a real component of the regular Russian army. And in doing so, he positioned himself as the custodian of Russia’s national security. Yes, it was a period when competition opened up, firstly to gain the trust of the leader, and secondly, to position itself as a follow-up. So, if a figure emerges on the national and international scene, it could create a rival for the president.

► To read also: War in Ukraine: “Frequently changing Russian military command is not a sign that operations are going well”

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