Viktor Sokolov: Russian video ‘shows Black Sea fleet commander alive’
The Russian Ministry of Defense has unveiled a video featuring the Black Sea Fleet’s commander participating in a conference, despite Ukraine’s previous assertion of his demise.
The precise timing of the video, which shows Viktor Sokolov appearing via a video link with the defense minister, remains unclear.
According to the ministry, this meeting with senior officials took place on Tuesday.
Earlier, Ukraine’s special forces had claimed that Adm Sokolov, along with 33 other officers, perished in a missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol, within the occupied territory of Crimea. Notably, they did not explicitly name the admiral or provide any substantiating evidence for his reported death. Presently, they state that they are “clarifying” the reports.
In their statement, Ukraine’s special forces mentioned, “As it is known, 34 officers were killed as a result of a missile attack on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation.” They acknowledged that identifying the deceased remains challenging due to the condition of the body parts.
This suggests that Ukraine may be retracting its earlier statements in response to the release of the Russian Defense Ministry’s video. They now reference “open sources” to support their claim that the commander was one of the 34 casualties. This marks a distinct change in their stance from the previous confident claims.
Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, conveyed to CNN that if Adm Sokolov’s death were confirmed, it would be seen as positive news, but this confirmation remains elusive.
While the strike that occurred last Friday holds significant implications, it’s crucial to exercise caution as this information war unfolds.
There is a possibility that Ukraine acted on intelligence and targeted a critical gathering within occupied Crimea. However, if they have overstated their achievements, it could prove a costly misstep in the ongoing battle of information.
The eight-minute video shows a Defence Ministry collegium, said to have taken place on Tuesday morning. Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu is seen talking to senior officials in a conference room in Moscow.
He is also briefly seen on several occasions on video link with the commanders of Russia’s five fleets including the Black Sea Fleet, none of whom speak.
Facial recognition software shows a match between other images of Adm Sokolov and the man who appears in the latest video, suggesting it is him.
But the BBC has so far been unable to verify whether the meeting actually took place on Tuesday, or whether the image of Adm Sokolov on the video link is in real time.
On Friday, Ukraine said it had hit the headquarters of the fleet, seen as the best of the Russian navy and an important target for Kyiv.
Footage on social media showed plumes of smoke over the building. Russia said it had shot down five missiles, although one serviceman had gone missing in the attack.
Kyiv’s forces have recently been launching near-daily strikes against Russian forces based in Crimea.
As well as being a platform from which to attack Ukraine, the Black Sea fleet is a major symbol of Russia’s centuries-old military presence in the region.
It was based in Crimea under a leasing deal even before Russia illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014.