How Ukraine's claimed kill of Russia's top Black Sea Fleet admiral could affect the war

 Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters on fire after Ukrainian strike.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet headquarters on fire after Ukrainian strike.

Ukraine's military said Monday that missile and drone strikes Friday on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea, killed the fleet's top commander, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, plus 33 senior officers. "The headquarters building cannot be restored," Ukraine's Special Operations Forces added in a Telegram post.

The head of Russian military intelligence said Saturday that the attack had seriously wounded two senior Russian generals, Col. Gen. Aleksandr Romanchuk and Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsekov. And Special Operations said Monday that an earlier Sept. 13 strike on the Russian fleet's shipyard killed 62 sailors gathered to deploy on the landing ship Minsk.

None of these deaths or injuries have been confirmed by Russia or news organizations, though Moscow "would be able to easily disprove Ukrainian reporting if these reports are false," the Institute for the Study of War noted Monday night.

Killing Sokolov is "a blow that, if confirmed, would be among the most damaging suffered by the Russian Navy since the sinking of the fleet's flagship last year," The New York Times assessed. And if Ukraine knew senior Russian military leaders were gathered for a meeting at fleet headquarters, as claimed, and "learned the identities of those hit and was able to obtain casualty counts," that "would indicate an intelligence coup as well as a military one."

Crimea, which Russia has illegally occupied since 2014, has been a key asset in Moscow's war in Ukraine, with the Black Sea Fleet its main weapon. "The fleet almost certainly remains capable of fulfilling its core wartime missions of cruise missile strikes and local security patrols," Britain's Ministry of Defence said early Tuesday. But "its ability to continue wider regional security patrols and enforce its de facto blockade of Ukrainian ports will be diminished," even as the fleet's own port defenses sit degraded.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet did strike Odesa on Monday, but it was "by inertia," Ukrainian naval spokesperson Dmytro Pletenchuk said on national television Monday, comparing the fleet to "a chicken running around without a head." The Russian Navy has "lost the person who actually manages" all ships, troops and other assets in the Black Sea, plus his staff, making the whole operation "inoperable," for now.