The commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has awarded some of his country’s highest military honours to naval marines despite an embarrassing retreat from the front lines in southern Ukraine.
Russian media shared a video of Admiral Viktor Sokolov presenting medals to members of the 810th Marine Brigade, in his second public appearance after Ukraine claimed to have killed him in a Storm Shadow missile strike at the fleet’s Crimea headquarters last week.
“The Black Sea Fleet is fulfilling the tasks set by the command confidently and successfully,” Admiral Sokolov said in an interview with Russian media. “I am sure that the surface force, the submarine force, marine aviation, and the coastal forces successfully fulfil tasks.”
In another video, the naval commander is seen handing out medals to members of Russia’s 810th, the Black Sea Fleet’s infantry brigade, which he said was by “presidential decree”.
The brigade’s commanders, he said, were awarded the Order of Ushakov – a decoration named after Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, an 18th-century Imperial Russian Navy commander who never lost a battle and was made the patron saint of the Russian navy.
“You know that the feats of our marine Infantry are practically never off the screens of central television,” Admiral Sokolov added.
The 810th was last understood to be fighting in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region, where they were deployed to hold back the counter-offensive.
It is unlikely that high-ranking officers from the brigade were among the 33 Russian commanders who Ukraine claimed it had killed in the missile strike on the headquarters.
But Lt-Gen Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, recently claimed that the 810th had been “completely defeated” and withdrawn from the front in an interview with The War Zone.
“That brigade was completely defeated, completely smashed, and now they have withdrawn being replaced by airborne troops,” the Ukrainian spymaster said.
Russia dispatched elite paratroopers to the Zaporizhzhia front line last month in an apparent bid to prevent a breakthrough by Ukrainian forces.
Western analysts believe that Moscow has redeployed units to the southern front from the Kherson and Luhansk regions.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update that Russia had deployed elements of its newly formed 25th Combined Arms Army into combat for the first time near Kreminna, in north-east Ukraine.
“Russia has only rarely maintained an uncommitted army-size grouping which could potentially form the basis of a new offensive thrust. With the 25 CAA apparently being dropped piecemeal to reinforce the over-stretched line, a concerted new Russian offensive is likely over the coming weeks,” the ministry said.
The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think tank, has previously claimed the newly-created force is probably “low quality or understrength”.
The think tank said: “The formation is likely either severely understaffed and not near the paper strength of two divisions, or is poorly trained much like initial Russian mobilised units in fall 2022, or both.”