Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said on Thursday that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) had carried out two missile strikes against Russian targets in Crimea; a command post, near Sevastopol, was hit at about 3 p.m. and a military unit, believed to be a radar station in Uyutne, near the city of Yevpatoria in the evening.
Oleshchuk thanked the pilots and “everyone who planned the operation for perfect combat work.” The wording of his Telegram post suggested the attacks had likely involved Anglo-French Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missiles.
A spokesperson for the Russian-appointed authorities in Crimea said its air defenses had intercepted ten missiles and 36 drones during the course of what they called a Ukrainian “terrorist attack” and that only fragments of destroyed projectile fell at the two locations.
However, within a couple of hours of the strike on the command post social media suggested that more than 20 soldiers and several senior Russian officers had been killed.
BREAKING:— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) January 5, 2024
23 Russian soldiers killed in yesterday’s Ukrainian missile strike against the Russian airbase in Saky, Crimea.
9 of them special forces, 5 high-ranking commanders. pic.twitter.com/hdUiUmfmI6
This claim was expanded upon shortly thereafter with suggestions that one of those killed had been Russia’s Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov who had been made overall commander of Russia’s “special military operation” last January. Firstly, this appeared on the X (formerly Twitter) account of a user called “WarVehicleTracker” quoting Russian Telegram channel “Ordinary Tsarism.”
Gerasimov died?— WarVehicleTracker (@WarVehicle) January 4, 2024
(Please let it be true, The last competent Russian dying after Surovikin got canceled out🙏) pic.twitter.com/qHi3xlS2ue
It was very quickly picked up by other Ukrainian and Russian social media sites and even the US main stream news outlet Newsweek ran the story, though it was at pains to point out that there was no concrete evidence to suggest that Gerasimov had been killed, or even that he was actually in Crimea at the time of the attack.
While the rumors of Gerasimov’s demise continued to circulate on Friday, the “Insider Ukraine” Telegram channel said in the early afternoon that “media information about the command post in Crimea being hit was true but that the death of the head of the General Staff is 99 percent fake.”
Serhiy Bratchuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Volunteer Army South speaking during an interview with the “Espresso” TV channel on Friday seemed to endorse this view:
“Yesterday in Crimea, an enemy command post was hit” in which there were “several high-ranking officers or generals of the Russian occupation army.” He added “I even heard the famous name Gerasimov. It would be good news, but I think it is unlikely to be true.”
The Russian news agency TASS, quoting the New York Times, said on Dec. 17 that Ukraine had allegedly made a failed attempt to assassinate Gerasimov during a visit to the front lines. It went on to say that the attempt had failed because it had been made against Washington’s wishes who in turn withheld the information on the Russian’s movements that were essential to a successful attack.
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