By Patrick Smith and Matthew Mulligan - NBC News
The commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet appeared in a virtual meeting a day after Ukraine said it had killed him in a missile strike, according to videos and photos released Tuesday by Russia's Defense Ministry.
The footage appears to show Viktor Sokolov, one of Moscow's highest-ranking naval officers, participating in a video conference with military leaders headed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
[Ukraine claims it killed the commander of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea in a missile attack on a barracks in Crimea]
NBC News has not verified when or where footage emerged after Ukraine's Special Operations Forces said Monday that the fleet commander was among 34 officers killed in an attack Friday on the headquarters in Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula.
After the Defense Ministry released the images on Tuesday, Kiev said it "clarified the information" provided on Monday.
"As is known, 34 officers were killed as a result of a missile attack on the fleet barracks of the Russian Federation in the Black Sea. Available sources say the commander of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea was among the dead. Many have not yet been identified due to the disparity of body fragments," Ukrainian Special Operations Forces alleged in a post on the Telegram platform.
Viktor Sokolov. Sergei Malgavko / Zuma Press
"As the Russians were urgently forced to publish a reply with an alleged Sokolov alive, our units are clarifying the information. This occurs in the middle of the process of collecting data as a result of an operation," they added.
The footage clearly shows Sokolov's face through a webcam alongside other senior military commanders. At one point in the video appears the date of this Tuesday: "26. 09. 2023". The name on his badge reads "V.N. Sokolov" and a Cyrillic abbreviation for the Black Sea fleet appears on his display.
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Russian state media also reported Sokolov's virtual appearance at the meeting, though they did not say exactly when it occurred.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov twice declined to answer questions about Sokolov in his daily briefing with foreign journalists and referred it to the Defense Ministry.
Sokolov appears on the left, at the bottom, during the video conference. NBC News could not verify when the meeting took place. Russian Ministry of Defense via Telegram
Kiev showed no evidence to back up its claim that it had assassinated the fleet commander, which would make Sokolov one of the highest-profile casualties among Russia's top military forces since the start of the war.
During the meeting, Shoigu presented an update on the Russian invasion and the creation of eight new military training centers to speed up the integration of new recruits into the armed forces. With the addition of these centers Russia would have 128 in total, he said.
Russia's bombing of key infrastructure continues, with attacks on ports and agricultural centers on Monday, Ukraine said.
Kiev has launched its own campaign of attacks against Russian targets, especially in the annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Shortly after Friday's operation, the Russian Defense Ministry said one serviceman was killed. He later claimed that he was missing and that five missiles were shot down by air defenses.