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Ukraine ‘clarifying’ whether Russian commander was killed in strike, after video purportedly shows him alive


By Olga Voitovych, Clare Sebastian, Florence Davey-Attlee and Rob Picheta, CNN

(CNN) — Ukraine’s military has said it is “clarifying” information received about the alleged assassination of Russian commander Viktor Sokolov, after Moscow released a video that appears to show him alive and well.

Kyiv claimed on Monday it killed Sokolov, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, in an attack on the fleet’s headquarters in occupied Crimea last Friday. But the Russian Ministry of Defense published a video on Tuesday that appears to show Sokolov participating in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other Russian military leaders.

Ukraine’s new defense minister Rustem Umerov told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that if Sokolov is dead, “it’s good news for everybody.”

In an exclusive interview from Kyiv, he neither confirmed nor denied Sokolov had been killed in the strike. “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 Amanpour.

In the Russian footage, a man resembling Sokolov appears to join the meeting via video conference. The nametape on his uniform reads Sokolov V. N. and his screen shows the Cyrillic letters “ЧФ,” the abbreviation for the Black Sea Fleet. CNN cannot confirm this is Sokolov, when the meeting took place or where his video appearance was filmed.

“Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish a response with Sokolov allegedly alive, our units are clarifying the information,” Ukraine Special Operations Forces said on Telegram Tuesday.

“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,” the statement added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier on Tuesday refused to comment on the Ukrainian claim that Sokolov had been killed.

The Ukrainian Special Operations Forces had earlier said Friday’s attack – the latest in a string of bold strikes on the occupied peninsula of Crimea – killed 34 people, including Sokolov.

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

Ukraine has increasingly been hitting strategic Russian targets in Crimea, the Black Sea region of southern Ukraine that has been occupied by Moscow since 2014.

Before Friday’s attack, Ukrainians had already carried out a series of strikes on Crimea. They hit a Russian military airfield at Saky, degraded Russian air defenses on the northwest coast, and carried out a missile attack on the main dry-dock and ship-repair facility in Sevastopol, crippling an attack submarine and a landing ship.

Russia appointed Sokolov as its new commander for its Crimea-based Black Sea fleet in August 2022, according to reports from state media outlet TASS at the time.

Sokolov had been serving as the Naval Academy chief since 2020. He served as the Northern Fleet deputy commander from 2013 until 2020. The change of command came amid heavy losses and a string of explosions at Russian military facilities in Crimea.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Maddie Araujo and Alex Hardie contributed to this report.

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