THE commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet was pictured "alive" just a day after Ukrainian special forces said they had killed him.
A picture released by the Russian defence ministry apparently shows Viktor Sokolov in a video conference with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top admirals and army chiefs.
Admiral Viktor Sokolov appeared to blink while attending the session remotely.
But he was not seen speaking, and sat in a chair that looked different to other naval commanders.
The “appearance” came after Vladimir Putin's spokesman declined to comment on the news that Sokolov had been killed – despite the claims by Ukraine.
The quietly released video therefore comes as a surprising move, since Russia has been refraining from giving details on the killed and wounded.
Ukraine's special forces said on Monday they had killed Sokolov, 61, Moscow's top admiral in Crimea, along with 33 other officers in a missile attack last week on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol.
The country's main news bulletins also failed to mention the humiliating strike in annexed Crimea.
The Russian footage today left open the possibility that old video of the commander had been superimposed on a meeting chaired by Russian defence minister Sergei Shogun.
There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian armed forces.
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But Ukrainian telegram channel Crimea’s Wind reported the existence of the Russian footage and said it seemed Sokolov had “attended the board of the Ministry of Defence."
It added: “It’s a pity of course.”
Ukraine also claimed that 105 military personnel had been wounded in the strike on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters.
Putin-loyal Russian Telegram channels immediately claimed Ukraine had been caught lying.
“We can say that the enemy’s statement [from] the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces that the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, died during the destruction of the Fleet headquarters building in Sevastopol is not true,” said Grey Zone.
Military Informant channel said: “The commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Sokolov, appeared at today’s meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defence.
“Earlier, the Ukrainian media and intelligence claimed that Sokolov allegedly died as a result of a strike on the fleet headquarters in Sevastopol.
“The point is that the command staff has not been in the headquarters building for a long time, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces is also well aware of.
“So no commander could have died there [nor dozens of officers].”
Ukrainian Special Operations Forces – which had stated on Monday that Sokolov was among the dead from the Black Sea Fleet headquarters missile strike – today issued a statement saying: “Available sources claim that among the dead was the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet [Admiral Viktor Sokolov].
“Many have still not been identified due to the scattered fragments of their bodies.
“Since the Russians were urgently forced to publish a response with Sokolov supposedly alive, our units are clarifying the information.
“This occurs as part of the procedure for collecting data regarding the results of the operation.”
The statement repeated its claim that 34 Russian military personnel had been killed in the strike, a figure which Russian sources have rejected.
It comes after Putin's own officers were believed to have handed over intelligence to Ukraine which allowed it to launch the massive strike.
The alleged betrayal from Putin's own soldiers came as Admiral Sokolov had been meeting with other commanders for a war-planning session.
Sokolov had been handpicked by Putin to restore the fleet’s pride after the loss of flagship Moskva last year to Ukrainian Neptune missiles.
Anti-Putin partisan group ATESH told the Kyiv Post they paid the soldiers who passed on the military intel leading to the deadly Black Sea strike as an "additional incentive".
ATESH said: "Delays in salary payments alone do not force the military armed forces of the Russian Federation to go against the Russian authorities."
The partisan group said the naval officers who leaked intelligence to them believe tyrant Putin is “waging a criminal war and that it needs to stop".
The spokesperson said: "The financial reward only helps them to decide on cooperation with the ATESH movement, it serves as an additional incentive."
The Crimean partisan group refused to say how much the Russian officers were paid but disclosed “it was enough to cover the risks for the officers and their families".
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On Friday, footage showed black smoke billowing from the building in Crimea, which tyrant Putin illegally annexed in 2014, following a missile attack.
A second strike was then launched on Saturday – with a clip showing the moment a British-supplied Storm Shadow missile hit the already-burning building in Sevastopol.
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