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Was Putin’s top general Gerasimov killed in Crimea attack? What we know

Rumors are circulating that Russia’s top general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, was killed in an attack on annexed Crimea by Ukrainian forces on Thursday.

Social media users began questioning the whereabouts of the Russian general after Ukraine said it had struck a Russian military command post near Sevastopol and a military unit near the city of Yevpatoria, in separate strikes on the Black Sea peninsula, which was annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Valery Gerasimov

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov (R) attend an expanded meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board in Moscow, on December 21, 2022. Rumors are swirling that Gerasimov was killed in an attack on annexed Crimea by Ukrainian forces.
MIKHAIL KIREYEV/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk thanked the pilots and “everyone who planned the operation for perfect combat work” in a message on Telegram.

Russia said its air defenses shot down 10 guided missiles over Crimea, and that it had prevented an attempt by Ukraine’s forces to carry out a “terrorist attack.” Russia’s defense ministry said it also intercepted 36 Ukrainian drones over the peninsula.

The unverified rumor of Gerasimov’s death appears to have begun circulating after X (formerly Twitter) user WarVehicleTracker, which tracks vehicles and losses in Ukraine, shared an image purporting to show a message published by a Russian Telegram channel called “Ordinary Tsarism,” which has more than 34,000 subscribers.

“Gerasimov died?” wrote WarVehicleTracker.

The message in the image read: “According to preliminary data, Valrey Gerasimov, who was in a command post near Sevastopol at the time of the attack, was killed in the attack on Crimea.”

WarVehicleTracker’s post has been viewed more than 60,000 times at the time of writing, and prompted hundreds of social media users to question whether Gerasimov had been killed in Crimea.

A Newsweek search found that the message purportedly published by the “Ordinary Tsarism” channel didn’t exist at the time of writing. It isn’t clear if the message was deleted, or if it was fabricated by social media users. Newsweek has emailed the author behind the channel for further clarification.

The X user WarVehicleTracker told Newsweek they first saw the image and message on social platform Discord.

Questions asked by X users as rumors swirled include: “Is Gerasimov dead?”; “What happened to Gerasimov?”; “Did they off Gerasimov?”; “Gerasimov died?”; “Did Ukraine really kill Gerasimov?”; and “Gerasimov, where are you?”.

“Until Russia proves that Gerasimov is alive, we should just assume he is dead,” one X user wrote.

Another added: “Not holding my breath but if Gerasimov got iced in the Crimea swarm, that would be… eventful.”

Gerasimov’s Wikipedia page was also temporarily edited to state that he had died on January 4, the day of the Crimea attack.

There is no concrete evidence to suggest that Gerasimov has been killed, nor is there evidence that Gerasimov was in Crimea at the time of the attack. The Kremlin hasn’t commented on the rumors, and Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Defense Ministry via email for comment.

The New York Times reported in December 2022 that Ukrainian authorities attempted to assassinate Gerasimov as he visited the front lines in Ukraine.

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Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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