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AFU claims Soledar yet to surrender, Dnipro casualties rise, Britain sends tanks to Ukraine. What happened on the front line on January 16?

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The front line

In the Donetsk direction, Russian troops are trying to advance into the city limits of Marinka. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are holding back the attacks. The Russian army has mounted offensives in the direction of Nevelske, Pervomaiske, Vodyane and from the direction of Opytne, reported pro-Russian channel WarGonzo. In turn, the Ukrainian army struck Donetsk and Horlivka.

South of Bakhmut, the Wagner Group is trying to take Klyshchiivka, attacking this AFU stronghold from the east, south and southwest. The attack on Bakhmut itself is coming from the direction of Opytne, as well as on the eastern outskirts of the city. To the north, the Wagner PMC is attacking in the direction of Yahidne and Krasna Hora. The area is host to an important section of the M-03 highway and a railway junction. In the northeast, Russian forces are again trying to advance towards Spirne.

In the Luhansk direction, the Ukrainian army is shelling Kreminna. Russian troops on the ground were attacked near Chervonopopivka.

Soledar

The Ukrainian command claimed that Soledar has not yet surrendered. “The enemy has concentrated the main blow in the Bakhmut direction, especially near Soledar, where fighting is taking place. Ukrainian units continue to hold the defense in the city itself and on the approaches,” said Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of Ukraine's Armed Forces.

“Soledar's status is not Russian. Our units are fighting, inflicting constant losses on the enemy and trying every day to show that this city does not surrender to the enemy. Our armed forces are doing everything to make [the enemy] pay an unimaginable price for every meter he tries to cover,” the Ukrinform news agency quoted Cherevatyi as saying.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels, meanwhile, are spreading messages about the capture of a railway station and the settlement of Sil on the western outskirts of Soledar by mercenaries from the Wagner PMC. The reports are accompanied by a photo and video of the station building in the background. There is, however, no other reliable confirmation of Soledar’s capture. There is also no information on how firmly the Russians control the area.

In a conversation with The Insider, military expert Serhiy Hrabsky noted that almost the entire city is under the control of Russian soldiers, but the AFU still holds positions on its outskirts.

“Ukrainian units are still holding positions on the western outskirts [of Soledar]. Do you know what that reminds me of? I’d say it looks like a splinter of some kind: everything seems to be occupied, but the enemy’s still lodged in [a part of the city]. This is an additional point of tension, which allows us to say that the Soledar affair is almost over, but, on the other hand, this opens up the direction for [artillery] strikes. In order to dislodge Ukrainian units from the positions they hold, the Russians have to deploy quite a serious force. The settlement is under the physical control of the Russian Federation, but Ukrainian defense forces still hold their positions on the outskirts, and now they’ve been given the opportunity for unimpeded and all-out fire on the enemy. There is no risk to the Ukrainians, so Soledar can be shelled by the AFU without fear of hitting its own units.”

According to the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Russian units have finished clearing Soledar and are developing an offensive in the Bakhmut direction. The think tank also reported an increased presence of Russian troops in the Kherson region.

Russia is planning decisive strategic operations this year that aim to turn the tide in Ukraine, according to the ISW’s daily campaign assessment on January 15. Despite a series of failures and unachieved goals (the seizure of Ukraine's right bank, the destruction of critical infrastructure, and a retreat in Kherson and Kharkiv), Russian President Vladimir Putin has not changed his maximalist plans, the report notes.

According to the ISW, Russia’s decisive strategic action in 2023 can manifest itself in multiple possible courses of action (COAs) that are not mutually exclusive:

  1. A major Russian offensive, most likely in the Luhansk Oblast area, with defensive operations in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

  2. A Russian defensive operation to defeat and exploit a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

  3. The most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) of a Russian offensive against northern Ukraine remains unlikely at this time. However, the Kremlin is creating planning flexibility and will likely expand Russia’s military presence in Belarus in the period leading up to planned major exercises (which could possibly support a combat operation) in September 2023.

Belarus

Russia and Belarus began joint flight and tactical exercises involving aviation units on January 16, according to a report from the Belarusian Defense Ministry. Officially, the “main purpose” of the exercise has been stated as the “improvement of interoperability in the joint execution of training and combat missions.” Both armies will practice aerial reconnaissance, patrolling along the border, air support of ground troop units, as well as landing of tactical airborne troops, delivery of cargo and evacuation of the wounded, said the Defense Ministry. All airfields and ranges of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense Forces will be involved in the exercise, which will last until February 1.

At the end of 2022, Russia began actively relocating tanks, machinery, and personnel from Belarusian training ranges closer to the border with Ukraine, reported Belarusian Hajun.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka also ordered an unscheduled inspection of the troops’ combat readiness in mid-December.

Dnipro

The number of victims of the strike on a residential building in Dnipro has increased to 40, with three children among the dead. Earlier reports confirmed that 39 people were rescued, 75 were wounded, among them 14 children. The fate of another 30 residents is currently unknown. Rescue teams are continuing to search for people under the debris.

A video that apparently captures the moment a Russian missile struck the multi-story building was circulated on social media.

The AFU reported that an X-22 missile, which was fired from a Tu-22M3 bomber from the Kursk area, hit the apartment building.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recorded a short video address to the Russian people after the missile attack in Dnipro. The Ukrainian leader addressed those who, even after the event, did not say “a few words of condemnation of this terror”.

“Your cowardly silence, your attempt to wait out what is happening, will end with these same terrorists coming after you one day,” Zelensky said. “Evil is very sensitive to cowardice, evil always remembers those who fear it and try to bargain. And when it comes for you, there will be no one to protect you.”

Russia denies any involvement in the attack on the apartment building in Dnipro. On January 15, in its daily update on the course of the so-called “special military operation,” the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that Russian troops hit a unit of Ukraine's military command system and related energy facilities during a massive strike on January 14.

“All designated facilities have been hit. The purpose of the strike has been achieved,” said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov.

Russian state media outlets RIA Novosti and TASS did not publish any news related to the attack on the day of the strike – there was not even any mention of the destruction of part of the building.

At a January 16 briefing, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the Russian army is not striking residential buildings, instead aiming at “military targets, obvious or camouflaged.” “You yourself have seen the conclusion of some representatives of the Ukrainian side, which said that this tragedy was the result of a counter missile and the work of anti-aircraft defense [systems],” Peskov said.

Peskov essentially blamed the Ukrainian air defense system for the strike on the residential block in Dnipro. He referred to a statement by Alexei Arestovich, a freelance adviser to the Ukrainian presidential office, who claimed on January 14 that a missile was shot down by the Ukrainian air defense system over Dnipro, after which it fell on the apartment building.

Arestovich voiced the hypothesis during a live stream on Mark Feygin's YouTube channel. The AFU Air Force responded that it had never shot down an X-22 during the Russian invasion and that the Ukrainian air defense system had no means to do so.

Arms supplies

Britain will become the first European country to transfer modern Western main battle tanks to Ukraine, announced British Minister of Defense Ben Wallace. The new military aid package for Ukraine will include:

  • A company of Challenger 2 tanks;
  • 8 AS90 self-propelled artillery units (the remaining 22 will be transferred after repairs);
  • Armored vehicles;
  • Bulldog APCs;
  • Dozens of drones;
  • 100,000 artillery rounds;
  • Hundreds of advanced missiles, including GMLRS rockets, Starstreak air defence missiles, and medium range air defence missiles;
  • Spare parts for tanks and armored vehicles.

Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad' tweeted that Slovakia transferred the eighth newly-made 155 mm Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzer to Ukraine. The shipment was carried out under a contract signed in early June to supply Ukraine with eight Zuzana 2s, from among those originally ordered for the Slovak army. The first four howitzers were handed over to the AFU in mid-August, two followed in early October and one in November.

Between January and November 2022, Ukraine’s allies transferred more than 4,000 weapons to Kyiv, including aircraft, tanks and artillery, according to a Bloomberg report.

The Ukrainian army received almost all types of weapons, except for long-range ATACMS missiles. “Some Western officials have voiced concerns about giving Ukrainian forces more potential to strike targets deep inside Russia, as it could lead to a direct confrontation with Moscow,” Bloomberg wrote.

According to to Oryx, a Dutch open-source defense analysis website, as well as announcements from Ukraine’s allies, Ukraine received the following weapons: 410 tanks, 300 IFVs, 1,100 armored personnel carriers (APCs), 925 mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, 1,540 armored vehicles, 300 towed howitzers and over 400 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 18 aircraft (excluding Slovak MiGs), 34 helicopters, and at least 415 reconnaissance drones.

The publication added that the numbers are approximations and couldn’t be independently verified.

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