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UK Intelligence Confirms Removal of Black Sea Fleet's Commander

Sokolov
Adm. Viktor Sokolov (Russian Ministry of Defense file image)

Published Feb 25, 2024 5:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK Ministry of Defense has confirmed rumors that the Russian military has replaced the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, after a string of high-profile losses. It is the second time that the fleet's commander has been removed since the start of the invasion in 2022. 

Sokolov's tenure overlapped with the loss of about one-fifth of the Black Sea fleet's vessel count. This includes some of the Russian Navy's most significant setbacks of the war, like the destruction of a Kilo-class sub, the loss of multiple Ropucha-class landing ships, and the sinking of a missile corvette. 

"Despite Russia's continued ability to strike Ukraine . . . it is increasingly evident that the defensive posture adopted to mitigate against Ukraine's non-conventional approach to maritime warfare is not working as intended," assessed the UK MOD. 

Pro-Russian social media accounts that report on the war have announced Sokolov's removal previously. One well-known commentator, military journalist Roman Saponkov, said that Sokolov's critics were dissatisfied with his approach on vessel protection measures. According to Saponkov, Sokolov had not approved the use of additional equipment to defend against Ukraine's suicide drone boats. Sokolov reportedly turned down thermal night vision devices, extra machine guns on deck, or torpedo nets to thwart Ukraine's repeated nonconventional attacks. The unmanned bomb boats have caused embarrassing losses, including the sinkings of the corvette Ivanovets and the landing ship Caesar Kunikov

The UK Ministry of Defence assesses that Ukraine's attacks have made most of the Black Sea unsafe for Russian Navy operations, particularly the western half (above). A small bastion around the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov is the sole remaining safe area (though strikes have been reported even within this sector). 

According to defense report channel Rybar, Black Sea Fleet chief of staff Vice Adm. Sergei Pinchuk has taken over command of the Black Sea Fleet on an interim basis. The Russian Ministry of Defense has not officially confirmed any change in personnel.