Although it has little intrinsic value, Soledar lies at a strategic point around 6 miles north of Bakhmut, which Russian forces are aiming to surround.
Taking Bakhmut could disrupt Ukrainian supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press toward Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province.
“The salt mines are located in strategically important underground tunnels — there’s a 200km (124 miles) tunnel network in that area, British intelligence has found, and they say those tunnels are a battleground: whoever takes them can infiltrate behind enemy lines quite effectively,” Samuel Ramani, an expert in politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told NBC News.
“The next step would be to advance on Bakhmut but they would have to encircle the city and they are still having problems with that.”
The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based think tank, said in its latest daily briefing that “Russian forces likely control most if not all of Soledar.”
But this “is not an operationally significant development and is unlikely to presage an imminent Russian encirclement of Bakhmut,” the institute added.
And even if Russian forces did capture Bakhmut, many analysts are unsure that would prove a turning point.
“Capturing Soledar, or even Bakhmut, won’t make up for the losses Russia has suffered, including the losses of Kherson for instance,” said Michael Horowitz, head of intelligence at the Le Beck International security consultancy.
Speaking at a press briefing at the White House on Thursday, National Security Coordinator John Kirby also played down the significance of the fight.
“Even if both Bakhmut and Soledar fall to the Russians … it’s not going to have a strategic impact on the war itself,” he said.
“And it certainly isn’t going to stop the Ukrainians or slow them down in terms of their efforts to regain their territory.”
The true value of Soledar’s capture may not be on the battlefield.
“I think the value of cities like Bakhmut or Soledar are much more symbolic,” Horowitz said.