January 13, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

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Two days after citing only regular Russian forces for the attack on the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday credited private military company Wagner for spearheading the “direct assault.”

In a statement on its official Telegram channel, the defense ministry said that “offensive operations” were carried out by a “heterogeneous grouping of Russian troops according to a single plan” and that Wagner led the “direct assault.”

Some background on the back-and-forth: The Russian forces that were most responsible for the Soledar assault has become the subject of considerable controversy in recent days.

A defense ministry statement on Wednesday did not mention Wagner, saying that “Airborne Troops have blocked Soledar from the northern and southern parts of the city.”

Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, released a statement on Monday claiming that “Soledar was taken exclusively by Wagner PMC units.” On Thursday, a Wagner Telegram channel released a video purporting to show members of the Russian Airborne Forces, saying that they did not participate in the Soledar fight and that “the assault on the city of Soledar was carried out only by the forces of PMC Wagner.”

Sergey Markov, a pro-Kremlin Russian military blogger, opined on Telegram on Friday that the “public feud and semi-insults between the leadership of the Ministry of Defense and PMC Wagner” was damaging Russia and “must be stopped immediately.”

The defense ministry statement on Friday appeared to be an attempt at a détente.

“Offensive operations in this tactical direction, which ended with the defeat of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the capture of the city of Soledar, were carried out by a heterogeneous grouping of Russian troops according to a single plan, which provided for the solution of a complex of combat missions,” according to the statement.

“As for the direct assault on the city blocks of Soledar occupied by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, this combat mission was successfully solved by the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault squads,” it added. 

On the Ukrainian side, a top Ukrainian official on Friday characterized infighting among different factions of the Russian power establishment as a “sign of the beginning of the stunning end.” Officials have also denied the Russian claim that Moscow’s forces have taken over Soledar.