Russia shows video to prove top commander is alive

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Still from footage shows video link with Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu on big screen and Adm Sokolov immediately below himReuters

Russia’s Defence Ministry has released a video showing the Black Sea Fleet’s commander at a conference, despite Ukraine claiming to have killed him.

It’s not clear when the footage, where Viktor Sokolov appears on a video link with the defence minister, was filmed.

The ministry said the meeting with senior officials happened on Tuesday.

Ukraine special forces said on Monday Adm Sokolov and 33 other officers died in a missile strike on the fleet’s HQ in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea.

They did not name the admiral directly, nor did they offer any evidence that he had died. They now say they are “clarifying” the reports.

“As it 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,” they said in a statement.

“Available sources claim that among the dead was the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Many [bodies] still have not been identified due to the condition of the body parts.”

The eight-minute video shows a Defence Ministry collegium, said to have taken place on Tuesday morning. Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu is seen talking to senior officials in a conference room in Moscow.

He is also briefly seen on several occasions on video link with the commanders of Russia’s five fleets including the Black Sea Fleet, none of whom speak.

Facial recognition software shows a match between other images of Adm Sokolov and the man who appears in the latest video, suggesting it is him.

But the BBC has so far been unable to verify whether the meeting actually took place on Tuesday, or whether the image of Adm Sokolov on the video link is in real time.

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On Friday, Ukraine said it had hit the headquarters of the fleet, seen as the best of the Russian navy and an important target for Kyiv.

Footage on social media showed plumes of smoke over the building. Russia said it had shot down five missiles, although one serviceman had gone missing in the attack.

Kyiv’s forces have recently been launching near-daily strikes against Russian forces based in Crimea.

As well as being a platform from which to attack Ukraine, the Black Sea fleet is a major symbol of Russia’s centuries-old military presence in the region.

It was based in Crimea under a leasing deal even before Russia illegally annexed the peninsula in 2014.

Additional reporting by Vitaly Shevchenko and Richard Irvine-Brown

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