Russian Black Sea commander shown after Ukraine said it killed him

The commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet appeared at a meeting in footage released by the country’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday, leading Ukraine to say it was “clarifying” whether he was dead or alive — a day after claiming to have killed him in a missile strike.

The video and photos appeared to show Viktor Sokolov, one of Moscow’s most senior naval officers, taking part in a video conference of military leaders that was led by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

NBC News has not verified when or where the footage was recorded.

It comes after Ukraine’s special operations forces said Monday that the commander of the fleet was among 34 officers killed in an attack in the occupied Crimean city of Sevastopol on Friday.

After the Russian Defense Ministry released the footage Tuesday, Kyiv said it was “clarifying the information.”

“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 the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was among the dead. Many still have not been identified due to the disparity of body fragments,” the special operations forces said in a post on Telegram.

“Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish an answer with an apparently alive Sokolov, our units are clarifying the information. This is happening within the procedure for collecting data on the results of the operation,” the post added.

The footage released Tuesday clearly shows Sokolov’s face appearing by webcam alongside other senior military figures. At one point in the video, Tuesday’s date — “26. 09. 2023” — is visible. His name badge reads “V.N. Sokolov” and a Cyrillic abbreviation for the Black Sea Fleet appears on his screen.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu chairs a meeting with the leadership of the Armed Forces, as Russian fleet commanders are seen on a screen via video link, in Moscow, Russia (Russian Defense Ministry via Reuters)

State media outlets also reported Sokolov’s virtual attendance at the meeting, though they did not say exactly when the meeting took place.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined twice to answer questions about Sokolov in his daily briefing with foreign journalists, instead directing questions to the Defense Ministry.

Kyiv did not provide evidence for the claim that it had killed the fleet’s commander, which would make Sokolov one of the most high-profile losses among Russia’s military top brass since the war began.

Sokolov has led the fleet since August last year, the result of a major reshuffle after the sinking of its Moskva flagship.

Viktor Sokolov during a graduation ceremony at the Nakhimov Black Sea Higher Naval School in Sevastopol, Russia (Sergei Malgavko / Zuma Press )

He rose through a series of posts in the Pacific and Northern fleets, serving as deputy commander in the latter, according to Russian state media.

From 2020 he headed a prestigious military academy before taking command of the Black Sea Fleet.

Sevastopol’s port is the main base of the fleet, which has been used to launch attacks deep into Ukraine.

Kyiv has been waging its own campaign of strikes against Russian targets, increasingly hitting the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Shortly after Friday’s missile strike there, Moscow said that one of its service members was killed and that its defenses intercepted five missiles. It later updated to say that the serviceman was missing.

During the meeting released Tuesday, Shoigu gave an update on Russia’s invasion and the creation of eight new military training centers to fast-track new recruits into the armed forces.

He also said that Kyiv’s counteroffensive on the battlefield was failing. “The Ukrainian armed forces are suffering serious losses along the entire front line,” Shoigu said.

Russia’s bombardment of key infrastructure continued, with strikes on ports and agricultural centers late Monday, Ukraine said.

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