Capturing Soledar would be seen as a victory for the Russian forces, which suffered military losses for months.
Russian troops are likely to control the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar, in the Donetsk region, after advancing over the past four days, according to the British Ministry of Defence.
The capture of Soledar, a daily update from the ministry said on Tuesday, is “probably an attempt to encircle Bakhmut,” the highly contested town 10 km from Soledar, where both sides have suffered heavy casualties.
The Defense Ministry added: “Part of the fighting has focused on entrances to the 200 km long [124-mile] disused salt mine tunnels that run under the district. Both sides are likely concerned that they could be used for infiltration behind their lines.”
Russia’s Wagner group of mercenaries has been trying for months to take Bakhmut and Soledar, despite the heavy loss of life.
According to Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, Russian troops in Soledar have established fire control over the main Ukrainian supply route to the city.
“This is not a complete encirclement, but normal supplies along the route are impossible, [and] this is critical for the defense,” he said.
Capturing Bakhmut would allow Moscow’s forces to advance on two more prominent cities, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Last week, a US official said the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was also eyeing Bakhmut for its salt and gypsum mines, which are believed to stretch for 160 km (100 miles).
‘Everything is completely destroyed’
In his late night speech on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut and Soledar held out despite intense attacks.
“Everything is completely destroyed, there is almost no life left,” he said.
“The entire land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes.
“This is what madness looks like.”
The intense fighting in the east comes as Ukrainian officials warn that Russia is preparing troops for a new offensive, possibly in the capital Kyiv.
Russia, for its part, says it will not mobilize more troops.