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‘Duplicate ceremonies’ Russian Black Sea Fleet commander reportedly attends ‘reenactment’ of soccer award ceremony to prove he’s not dead
In the city of Sevastopol, in annexed Crimea, an award ceremony for the Chernomorets soccer team was held not once — but twice. Russian Black Sea Fleet Admiral Viktor Sokolov, who was previously reported to have been killed in a Ukrainian missile strike, attended the second ceremony. According to RFE/RL journalist Mark Krutov, who analyzed photos and videos from the ceremony, this was done to prove that Sokolov is, in fact, still alive.
Ukraine’s Armed Forces carried out a missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol on September 22. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, one Russian soldier was killed. The Ukrainian authorities, however, reported that the attack took place while the Black Sea Fleet leadership was holding a meeting, and that 34 officers were killed and 105 soldiers were injured. Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces (SSO) claimed that Russian Black Sea Fleet commander Viktor Sokolov was among the dead.
So, what do we know about Sokolov’s appearance at the Chernomorets award ceremony? On the morning of September 27, Russian media posted videos from the event. The Telegram channel Perviy Sevastopolsky wrote that the commanders were awarding the athletes “as we speak.” Krutov inquired about the time the ceremony would take place, to which a moderator for the team’s VKontakte page replied that “this information is not for public distribution.”
The Russian Defense Ministry’s channel The Star posted Sokolov making brief comments at the event, saying that the Black Sea Fleet was “confidently” and “successfully” completing the tasks given to them by commanders. Judging by the footage, the video was recorded in the same location where the award ceremony took place. According to Krutov, this was a room in the Black Sea Fleet’s House of Officers in Sevastopol.
The Telegram channel Perviy Sevastopolsky posted another clip from the ceremony indicating that the event was set to take place on September 20, but was rescheduled. One reporter who spoke with Sokolov said that the ceremony was canceled “for obvious reasons.” Sokolov, however, responded, “No, it was only postponed because of scheduling reasons.” The video’s caption reads that Sokolov “personally congratulated the soccer players for their victory in Sevastopol, in order to show that he’s alive and continues working.”
As noted by the Ukrainian outlet Hromadske, the soccer team won the championship game back on September 19. Krutov discovered that the program Vesti Sevastopol played clips from the first award ceremony on September 20, the day after their victory. Sokolov was not shown or referenced, despite the ceremony taking place in the same Black Sea Fleet’s House of Officers hall. As Krutov notes, assuming that the admiral was actually at the ceremony, it’s unlikely that the Russian media would have delayed publishing Sokolov’s comments for a week.
“Some details [in the videos] indicate that we are talking about two different, albeit duplicate, ceremonies,” noted the journalist in a RFE/RL podcast. More precisely, the table holding the awards on September 20 looks different from the one on September 27. “[It] seems like they replicated the ceremony to demonstrate that Sokolov is still alive,” added Krutov.
The Donbas News Telegram channel pointed to one more piece of evidence that the award ceremony’s alleged re-enactment featuring Sokolov was taped on September 27: a projector screen showing the date (September 27).
Previously, on September 26, Russia’s Defense Ministry posted photos and videos of Sokolov attending a ministry board meeting that same day. Agenstvo’s analysis shows that Sokolov took part in the event by video call from the same office as before. Journalists said it wasn’t possible to determine whether he was participating live or if it was a pre-recorded video.
Afterwards, Ukraine’s SSO reported that they were clarifying information about Sokolov:
Since the Russians felt that they urgently needed to post a response with the allegedly alive Sokolov, our units are clarifying the information. This is part of the procedure to collect information about the operation’s results.
The SSO emphasized that “available sources” claim Sokolov was killed in the strike in Sevastopol, and that “many [of those killed] have yet to be identified.”
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