Russian Black Sea fleet commander killed in Crimea, Ukraine claims

<span>Photograph: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

Ukraine has claimed it killed Adm Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, along with 33 other officers, in one of Kyiv’s boldest attacks yet on the occupied peninsula of Crimea.

The Ukrainian military said Friday’s attack on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol was timed to coincide with a meeting of naval officials.

“After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored,” the special forces said on the Telegram messaging app.

The Russian defence ministry has not yet commented on Ukraine’s claim. Moscow has previously confirmed Ukraine’s attack but said that one serviceman was missing as a result of the attack.

The Guardian cannot independently confirm Ukraine’s claims about Sokolov or the number of casualties and it was not immediately clear how Ukraine’s military counted dead and wounded people in the attack.

Several close relatives of Sokolov declined to respond to requests for comment.

Over the weekend, Ukraine’s intelligence head, Kyrylo Budanov, told Voice of America that at least nine people had been killed and 16 others wounded in Friday’s strike. Budanov did not mention Sokolov, but claimed that Alexander Romanchuk, a Russian general commanding forces along the main south-eastern frontline, was “in a very serious condition” after the attack.

Both sides have exaggerated enemy losses since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 19 months ago, while often staying quiet about their own casualties. But given Sokolov’s seniority, it is unlikely that Moscow would be able to conceal his death for a prolonged period.

Sokolov was appointed as the new commander of the Crimea-based Black Sea fleet in August 2022, reportedly to shore up the defences of Crimea after it was first hit by a series of Ukrainian explosions last summer.

He previously held a series of posts in the Pacific and Northern Fleets, serving as deputy commander in the latter.

Some pro-war Russian bloggers on Monday urged the defence ministry to comment on Ukraine’s claims. “We would like to receive information faster … We are all waiting for simple and clear answers about the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” wrote Sergei Markov, a popular blogger and former adviser to the Kremlin.

In recent weeks, Ukraine has sharply increased the pace of strikes on Crimea as it seeks to inflict strategic and symbolic blows against Russian troops that illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian media published footage of Friday’s attack, which showed British-supplied Storm Shadow missiles hitting the roof of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol.