The commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet reported to have been killed in the destruction of its HQ in occupied Sevastopol last week appears to have survived, if a video released by the Russian defense ministry can be taken at face value.
Ukrainian officials publicly “confirmed” Monday that Admiral Viktor Sokolov was among 34 senior officers killed in a missile attack on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters last Friday that came as a hugely damaging blow to the Russian war effort.
Russia made no public comment on the specific Ukrainian claims, presumably because there’s no good way to spin the destruction of what should have been the best-protected building on the Crimean peninsula.
But on Tuesday, Sokolov made a cameo appearance in a video released of a meeting chaired by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, as if to slap down the Ukrainian claims.
The vice admiral appeared for just a couple of seconds as one of a number of commanders taking part via videolink. He is in dress uniform, propped up against a pillow, his face bearing no signs of injury but eyes apparently closed behind his glasses.
That brief appearance was not perhaps convincing enough but a still photo released shortly afterward showed Sokolov with his glasses off and eyes actually open—although still propped up against a pillow as if he was in a hospital bed somewhere.
Rus donanması karadeniz filosu amirali Viktor Sokolov savunma bakanlığı toplantısına katılmış, natocular öldü diye kutlama yapıyorlardı 1 haftadır :) pic.twitter.com/Qm6UJYX64Z
— Kucuk Moskovali (@kucukmoskovali) September 26, 2023
Russian authorities have been known to doctor video evidence to show dead, injured, or out-of-favor commanders still going about their business. Equally, however, Ukrainian commanders have previously announced the deaths of Russian military leaders who have turned out to be still alive.
Whether Sokolov’s career can survive the destruction of the Black Sea Fleet HQ given the fleet’s almost foundational importance for the projection of Russian military might is a question for another day. Sokolov’s predecessor was fired last year after the loss of the fleet's flagship cruiser, the Moskva.
In Tuesday’s video, Defense Minister Shoigu claimed that more than 17,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in September and seven American Bradley fighting vehicles destroyed, Reuters reported.
“The Ukrainian armed forces are suffering serious losses along the entire front line,” Shoigu said, dismissing the Ukrainian counter-offensive as ineffectual. “The United States and its allies continue to arm the armed forces of Ukraine, and the Kyiv regime throws untrained soldiers to their slaughter in senseless assaults.”