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Ukraine Investigating Whether Russian Commander Killed In Strike, Video Shows Him Alive

Ukraine’s military is currently “clarifying” information about the reported assassination of Russian commander Viktor Sokolov. This follows the release of a video by Moscow that appears to depict Sokolov alive and well.

Kyiv had initially asserted on Monday that Sokolov, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, had been killed in an attack on the fleet’s headquarters in occupied Crimea the previous Friday. 

However, the Russian Ministry of Defense countered this claim by publishing a video on Tuesday showing Sokolov participating in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other Russian military leaders.

Ukraine’s new defense minister, Rustem Umerov, reacted cautiously, neither confirming nor denying Sokolov’s death in the strike. In an exclusive interview from Kyiv, he stated, “He [Sokolov] is in our temporary occupied territories … he should not be there at all. So, if he’s dead, it’s good news for everybody that we are continuing to de-occupy our territory.”

In the Russian video, a man resembling Sokolov is seen joining the meeting via video conference, with the nametape on his uniform reading Sokolov V. N., and the Cyrillic letters “ЧФ” (the abbreviation for the Black Sea Fleet) displayed on his screen.

The Ukraine Special Operations Forces stated on Telegram: “Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish a response with Sokolov allegedly alive, our units are clarifying the information.” They also mentioned, “Available sources claim that the Black Sea Fleet Commander is among the dead. Many have not yet been identified due to the fragmentation of body fragments.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting on Ukraine’s claim that Sokolov had been killed.

The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces had previously reported that Friday’s attack, the latest in a series of strikes on the occupied Crimea peninsula, resulted in the deaths of 34 people, including Sokolov.

Andrii Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, highlighted that Russia was utilizing Crimea as a “logistics hub” and stressed that “the ultimate goal, of course, is the de-occupation of Ukrainian Crimea.”

Ukraine has been increasingly targeting strategic Russian assets in Crimea, the Black Sea region under Moscow’s control, since 2014. 

Prior to the Friday attack, Ukraine had launched a series of strikes in Crimea, targeting a Russian military airfield in Saky, impairing Russian air defenses on the northwest coast, and conducting a missile attack on the main dry-dock and ship-repair facility in Sevastopol, which resulted in damage to an attack submarine and a landing ship.

As reported by the state media outlet TASS, Sokolov was appointed as the new commander of Russia’s Crimea-based Black Sea fleet in August 2022. 

Before his role as commander, Sokolov had served as the Naval Academy chief since 2020 and held the position of Northern Fleet deputy commander from 2013 to 2020. 

This change in command occurred against significant losses and a series of explosions at Russian military facilities in Crimea.