Russia released new videos on Wednesday of a Russian admiral whom Ukraine claimed to have killed, with the footage showing him apparently alive and well, hoisting a trophy into the air to celebrate a soccer victory and stoically telling a local interviewer that “life goes on.”
It was the second day in a row that Russia offered imagery of the admiral, Viktor Sokolov, in what seemed to be a calculated rebuttal of Ukraine’s claim.
On Monday, Ukrainian officials said that Admiral Sokolov, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, had been killed along with 33 other officers in a missile strike on Sevastopol, Crimea. But the following day they hedged on their claim after Russia released video that appeared to show the admiral attending a large military meeting remotely.
On Wednesday, still more unverified videos of him began circulating in Russia — and in these, unlike the one a day earlier, he can be heard speaking.
In one video posted by Zvezda, a TV network run by the Russian Ministry of Defense, a man identified as Admiral Sokolov praises the Black Sea Fleet for “fulfilling goals that are set by the command.” The video is not dated.
And in Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, years before it unleashed its full-scale invasion in Ukraine, a local news outlet posted an account in which Admiral Sokolov seemingly responds to a reporter’s question about the Ukrainian strike. “What happened to us?” he says. “Nothing happened to us. Life goes on.”
In fact, whether Admiral Sokolov is alive or dead, video and other evidence make clear that something major did happen at the fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol on Friday. Witnesses’ videos and photos, along with satellite imagery, show the building smoking and partly caved in after an apparent missile strike.
Ukraine has repeatedly targeted Russia’s warships in the Black Sea and their base at Sevastopol, trying to degrade the fleet’s effectiveness and force it to keep a wary distance from Ukrainian shores. The ships are one of the main platforms for firing cruise missiles into Ukraine, and they have tried to enforce Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.
There was some question about how much stock should be placed in the videos released by Russia. Moscow has a well-established history of trying to sweep miliary embarrassments under the rug, most notably during this war when the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet was sunk.
Even when its plans appear to work out, the Kremlin sometimes likes to maintain a shroud of mystery.
It has declared no involvement, for example, when old adversaries turn up poisoned in other countries. And more recently, when the mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin died after his plane exploded, President Vladimir V. Putin offered a cryptic eulogy for a onetime ally who had briefly rebelled: He was a “talented man,” he said, with a “complicated fate.”
Still, Ukraine, too, has made claims during the war that have turned out to be inaccurate or, at least, unprovable. After the first video purporting to show Admiral Sokolov alive appeared in Russia, Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they might have made a mistake, but maintained that they still thought he was dead.
On Wednesday, Admiral Sokolov — or, at least, a figure who resembled him — did not limit himself to affairs military. A state-owned newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published an article saying that he had handed out an award that morning to the Black Sea Fleet’s soccer team.
There was evidence suggesting that the award ceremony may, in fact, have been a restaging of an earlier event, presumably to buttress the notion that the admiral was still alive. He himself, in response to a question, says on the video that the ceremony had been postponed.
Aric Toler contributed reporting.