Russian forces are advancing towards the embattled city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine after capturing the nearby salt-mining town of Soledar, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Russia on Friday claimed to have captured Soledar, which is located nine miles north of Bakhmut in Ukraine's Donetsk region. Russian troops were led in that battle by members of the notorious paramilitary unit, the Wagner Group, founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin in 2014.

And on Tuesday, Kremlin-installed authorities in the Donetsk region said in a statement on Telegram that Soledar was under Russian control.

"On the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic, Russian troops liberated Soledar," the post said.

A Ukrainian soldier of an artillery unit fires towards Russian positions outside Bakhmut on November 8, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces are advancing towards Bakhmut after capturing Soledar, a think tank said.BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

In its latest assessment of the war in Ukraine on Monday, the ISW, a U.S.-based think tank, said Russian forces may be intensifying attacks near Klishchiivka, located southwest of Bakhmut, after capturing Soledar.

It's part of a "new effort to encircle Bakhmut, after months of ineffective frontal assaults," the ISW said.

The think tank noted that on Sunday, a prominent Russian milblogger claimed that Russian forces were attacking Klishchiivka and that Russian advances in southern Bakhmut will enable Russian forces to threaten Ukrainian ground lines of communication (GLOCs) on the T0504 highway from Chasiv Yar to Bakhmut.

Russian sources also reported that heavy fighting continued in Klishchiivka on Monday, the ISW observed, noting that the Ukrainian General Staff reported that its forces had repelled Russian attacks against Bakhmut itself, Klishchiivka and Mayorsk on Saturday and Sunday.

"Geolocated combat footage published on January 15 indicates that Russian forces have made marginal advances in southeastern Bakhmut near the Bakhmut garbage dump," the think tank said. "A Russian source claimed that Russian forces made additional territorial gains in southern Bakhmut on Maly Troitsky Lane, north of Opytne."

Russia's defense ministry on Friday credited its artillery, aviation and missile forces in the capture of Soledar.

Ukraine has continued to deny that Soledar has been seized completely by Russian forces. On Tuesday, a spokesman for Ukraine's eastern military command, Serhiy Cherevatyi, reiterated that Ukraine's forces were holding out.

"Eastern Ukraine is remaining the main target of the aggressor's attack. The enemy focused the main efforts on the Bakhmut direction, especially near Soledar, where battles are raging. Ukrainian units continue holding the defense in the city itself and its outskirts," he said during a television broadcast, local news outlet Ukrinform reported.

Bakhmut has seen some of the most intense fighting of the war in Ukraine. According to Ukrainska Pravda, 90 percent of Bakhmut's residents have fled, with the 8,000 residents who remain subject to daily fire.

Newsweek has reached out to the foreign ministries of Ukraine and Russia for comment.

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