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 that Adm Sokolov and 33 other officers died in a missile strike on the fleet’s HQ in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea.
On Wednesday, a TV channel run by Russia’s defence ministry showed a video interview with Adm Sokolov, during which he said the fleet was performing successfully.
It was not clear when the clip was filmed.
Kyiv has not named the admiral directly, nor has it offered any evidence that he had died. It now says it is “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,” Ukraine’s special forces said in a statement.
“Many [bodies] still have not been identified due to the condition of the body parts.”
This suggests Ukraine is backtracking following the release of the Russian Defence Ministry’s clip.
In a statement, it now cites “open sources” for its claim that the commander was one of the 34.
This is a definite change of tone following yesterday’s confident claims. Ukraine’s new Defence Minister, Rustem Umerov, told CNN that if Adm Sokolov was dead “it’s good news for everybody”, but this is far from a confirmation.
There is a chance that Ukraine did act on intelligence and target a key meeting in the heart of occupied Crimea.
The significance of last Friday’s strike is not to be understated, but if Kyiv has overextended in its alleged achievements, it would be a careless mistake in this continued information war.
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.
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.