Ukraine has claimed it killed the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in an unprecedented missile strike on the naval headquarters in the annexed Crimean peninsula last week.
It marked a major blow for Moscow, which has suffered a string of attacks on the strategically important port of Sevastopol in recent months, AFP reports.
“Thirty-four officers were killed, including the commander of the Black Sea fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded,” Ukraine‘s special forces said.
The strike on Friday sent plumes of black smoke billowing from the building in central Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014. “The headquarters are beyond repair,” the special forces added.
#BREAKING Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (SSO) claims the commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation was killed during an attack on the HQs in Sevastopol along with 34 officers.
SSO also claims 105 Russian soldiers were wounded.
The HQs building cannot be… pic.twitter.com/uZOSTg8yJC
— Clash Report (@clashreport) September 25, 2023
Russia’s defense ministry said on the day of the attack that one serviceman was missing, after having initially reported that one person had been killed.
Anton Gerashchenko an adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, has posted on X (formerly Twitter) a photo of the head of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, claiming that he is among the dead after the attack carried out by Ukrainian forces.
Commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet admiral Viktor Sokolov died in the missile strike on the Fleet's headquarters, along with 34 more officers. 105 more were wounded. The building is not suitable for restoration – Special Operations Forces of Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/2EQHl7WxJy
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) September 25, 2023
Reuters notes it is not immediately clear how Ukraine’s special forces have counted the dead and wounded in the attack.
Ukraine targets Russia in Crimea
Ukraine has increasingly been hitting strategic Russian targets in Crimea, the Black Sea region of southern Ukraine that has been occupied by Moscow since 2014.
On Friday it carried out perhaps the most daring strike so far; Kyiv officials said they successfully targeted a Russian command post near Verkhniosadove, a few kilometers from Sevastopol.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) noted that satellite imagery confirmed that Ukrainian forces “struck the 744th Communications Center of the Command of the Black Sea Fleet… as part of an apparent Ukrainian effort to target Black Sea Fleet facilities.”
Ukrainian Defense Intelligence spokesperson Andrii Yusov said Russia was using Crimea as a “logistics hub” and that “the ultimate goal, of course, is the de-occupation of Ukrainian Crimea.”
In a statement on Telegram, Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces said a special op dubbed “Crab Trap” was timed to strike while senior members of Russia’s Navy were meeting, and that the attack left dozens of dead and wounded “including the senior leadership of the fleet.”
Russia appointed Sokolov its new commander for its Crimea-based Black Sea fleet in August 2022, according to reports from state media outlet TASS at the time.
Sokolov had been serving as the Naval Academy chief since 2020. He served as the Northern Fleet deputy commander from 2013 until 2020. The change of command came amid heavy losses and a string of explosions at Russian military facilities in Crimea.
Sevastopol is the largest city in Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014. Ukraine has not given up hope of reclaiming it.