Ukraine Situation Report: Black Sea Fleet Commander Reappears After Kyiv Declared Him Dead

A day after Ukraine said he was dead, Adm. Viktor Sokolov appeared to attend a Russian Defense Ministry meeting via teleconference.

byHoward Altman|
A day after being declared dead by Ukraine's special operations command, Russian Administration. Viktor Sokolov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet, appeared via video at a conference in Moscow.
Russian MoD
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A day after Ukrainian Special Operations Command (SSO) claimed that Russian Adm. Viktor Sokolov was among dozens of officers killed in the Sept. 22 cruise missile attack on the headquarters building of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF) in Sevastopol, the BSF commander was seen apparently very much alive Tuesday during a meeting held by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The SSO said it is now clarifying its original report, without stating it was in error.

As Shoigu talked about the current status of the war in Ukraine, Sokolov appeared to be seen on a video feed during a meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board Session held in Moscow. In this image below, published on the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) Telegram channel, Sokolov is seen on the bottom left on the large screen, just under Shoigu.

Russian Adm. Viktor Sokolov is seen on the big screen, just under Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in this image posted by the Russian MoD. (Russian MoD)

In the edited video below, originally posted on the Telegram channel of the official Russian RIA Novosti news outlet, Sokolov is seen a couple of times - once at the 2-second mark and again at the 56-second mark.

"The commander of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, whose death was reported to the Ukrainian public, was present at today's meeting of the Board of Defense," RIA Novosti reported on its Telegram channel.

The War Zone cannot independently verify the timing and authenticity of the RIA Novosti video, but The New York Times noted that "a Sept. 26 time stamp on the clip which matches the date in the video’s metadata."

In the wake of that video, the SSO on Tuesday issued a “clarification of information” about its Sokolov death report.

“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,” the SSO wrote. “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.”

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

Asked if Sokolov was alive or dead, Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, commander of the Defense Intelligence Directorate, told The War Zone on Tuesday that "we don't know exactly."

As for whether the images and video of Sokolov really indicated he was alive, or if the Russians faked it, Budanov said "that is the question. Maybe he is alive, maybe no. We are looking for the answer."

Either way, Budanov told us that this incident won't have a negative impact on Ukraine.

In an interview with Voice of America on Friday, he did not mention Sokolov among those killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with CNN, Ukraine’s new defense minister Rustem Umerov on Tuesday neither confirmed nor denied Sokolov’s death.

“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,” Umerov told CNN’s Christine Amanpour.

Regardless of Sokolov's status, the Russian Black Sea Fleet has been seriously affected by the recent Ukrainian attacks against it, the U.K. Defense Ministry (MoD) noted in its latest assessment released Tuesday.

Ukrainian attacks on Sept. 20 and, as mentioned above, Sept. 22 "have been more damaging and more coordinated than thus far in the war."

However, while the physical damage to the BSF "is almost certainly severe" the fleet "almost certainly remains capable of fulfilling its core wartime missions of cruise missile strikes and local security patrols."

Still, the BSF's ability to conduct wider regional security patrols and enforce its de-facto Black Sea blockade "will be diminished," according to the U.K. MoD. "It also likely has a degraded ability to defend its assets in port and conduct routine maintenance."

Though Ukraine lost much of its remaining naval capacity when Russia seized Berdiansk in the beginning of the all-out war, there is a "dynamic, deep strike battle underway in the Black Sea," according to the U.K. MoD.

Ukraine has been able to conduct offensive operations against Russian naval assets through the use of uncrewed surface vessels, aerial drones and missile attacks on infrastructure throughout the Crimean peninsula.

"This is likely forcing Russia into a reactive posture whilst demonstrating that Ukraine's military can undermine the Kremlin's symbolic and strategic power projection from its warm water port in occupied Sevastopol."

As of just after midnight Wednesday Kyiv time, the SSO provided no additional information about Sokolov's status. Barring a Weekend at Bernies situation where the Russians faked Sokolov being alive, this incident is a reminder that in the fog of war and the robust information battle taking place in Ukraine by both sides, even official confirmations can be wrong, intentionally or otherwise.

Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

On the battlefield, it appears that there were no major gains by either side over the past 24 hours.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said its forces came under aerial attack by Russia near Mala Tokmachka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast while the Russian Defense Ministry claimed it repelled two Ukrainian attacks near Verbove. 

Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment

  • The tactical situation in Verbove remains unclear amid continued Ukrainian offensive operations in western Zaporizhia Oblast on September 25.
  • Russian military officials continue efforts to build out the Russian armed forces to suit the needs of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
  • Russian forces continued unsuccessful offensive operations near Bakhmut, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted offensive operations near Bakhmut, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area, and in western Zaporizhia Oblast but did not make any confirmed gains.

Russian attacks on Ukraine's port infrastructure in the Odesa region continued Tuesday.

A Russian drone strike on the Danube River port city of Izmail injured two truck drivers, damaged port infrastructure and resulted in the suspension of ferry service across the river, the local governor said on his Telegram channel Tuesday.

“For two hours, Russian terrorists attacked Odesa region with attack drones,” Oleh Kiper said. “Air defense forces were working extremely hard. Most of the drones were shot down. Unfortunately, the port infrastructure was hit in the Izmail district.”

In addition to the injured truck drivers, a checkpoint building, warehouses, about 30 trucks and six vans were damaged during the attack, Kiper said.

“The work of the ferry crossing point ‘Orlivka’ is temporarily suspended,” said Kiper. “We will inform you about the resumption of transit operations, but in the meantime, we ask you to choose other routes to Romania.”

We reached out to Romanian officials for comment and will update this story with any pertinent information provided.

Several other regions in Ukraine were attacked by Russian drones as well, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry (MoD).

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) has for the first time posted a war-related video of a unified gliding and correction module (UMPK) equipped FAB-500M-62 bombs according to defense analyst Guy Plopksy. These are guided glide kits that feature pop-out wings for dumb bombs. You can read more about them in our story here

The video, posted Tuesday on the Russian MoD Telegram channel, shows an Su-34 Fullback strike fighter taking off with a pair of those bombs on its mid-board wing stations.

“The Russian Aerospace Forces' Su-34 multipurpose fighter bomber crews hit command and control posts of unmanned aerial vehicles and armored fighting vehicles of the AFU with guided aerial bombs,” the Russian MoD stated. “The pilots used guided munitions to destroy the targets, which destroyed fortified facilities and enemy hardware.”

Speaking of Russian glide bombs, video emerged on social media purporting to be a strike on a Ukrainian building with one of those weapons, an attack directed or at least filmed by an Orlan-10 drone.

Here are Ukrainian pilots' views of what it is like to fly an Su-27 Flanker fast and low to survive in contested airspace.

With the vast expansion of the trench warfare that has been taking place in Ukraine since 2014, the country is now scarred by hundreds of miles of dug out defensive lines created by both sides. Here's a look at how a Soviet-era MDK-3 trench digging vehicle remains in operation for Ukraine.

And finally, in combat, quick and proper medical attention often means the difference between life and death. This video shows the training of Ukrainian troops on tactical medicine best practices, especially the all-important proper application of tourniquets.

That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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