Ukraine’s special forces on Monday had claimed Russian admiral Viktor Sokolov and 33 other officers were killed in a missile strike carried out on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol in Crimea.
The video released by Russia’s defence ministry on Tuesday, however, showed Black Sea Fleet commander Sokolov appearing on a video conference call with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu. It remains unclear when the video was recorded.
While it is not clear how Ukraine counted casualties in the Sevastopol operation, Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, had earlier posted the admiral’s name and photo on social media.
Ukraine now says it is working to “clarify” earlier reports. Russia has not issued any direct rebuttal of Ukraine’s claims, which is consistent with its stance of maintaining silence on significant battlefield losses.
“As 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. Available sources claim that among the dead was the commander of the Russian Army. Many still have not been identified due to the disparity of body fragments,” Ukraine’s special forces said on their official Telegram channel.
“Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish an answer with an apparently alive Sokolov, our units are clarifying the information,” it said.
The video from Tuesday showed defence minister Shoigu talking about a drill he claimed Russia’s Pacific fleet had completed a day earlier, as several top officers appeared on a big screen in the room.
Admiral Sokolov is also seen in a video screen but in a different location, with only a flag seen in the backdrop behind him. He is also not heard speaking in the video.
While this appears to be a signal from Moscow that the admiral is still alive, Russia has not released any details to prove when the video conference took place.
In its earlier update on the Sevastopol strike, Ukraine’s special forces said the air force fired 12 missiles on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters as it targeted areas where personnel, military equipment and weapons were concentrated.
Two anti-aircraft missile systems and four Russian artillery units were hit, special forces said.
It was a rare direct claim of responsibility from Ukraine for an attack on either Russian soil or a target in Crimea, which Russia has occupied since its illegal annexation in 2014.
Moscow-installed authorities in Sevastopol are reported to be taking extra defensive measures in the face of Ukraine’s increased attacks on Crimea in recent days.
Sevastopol is a critical region providing a platform from which Russia has launched many of its air attacks on Ukraine in the 19-month-long war.