Late Wednesday, Odessa state regional administrator Maxim Marchenko said a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship cruise missile hit the Moskva, causing severe damage. Hours later, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that a key ship in its Black Sea Fleet had suffered significant damage, but it did not respond to Ukrainian claims.
Instead, the Russians said they would investigate the cause of the fire, which they believe blew up the ship’s ammunition. The ship’s roughly 500 crew members were all evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet ships in the region, Russia said.
The Russian Defense Ministry later said that “the fire on the cruiser Moskva has been located” and “the explosions of munitions have been stopped”, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. He said the ship maintained “buoyancy” and its “main missile armament” was undamaged. The ministry added that efforts are underway “to tow the cruiser to port,” RIA Novosti reported.
Ukraine said in an update that the Moskva “was badly damaged” by a Neptune missile which caused a fire. “Other units from the ship’s group tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink,” the Ukrainian military said.
Adding to the confusion, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN senior Ukrainian officials were not sure what was true. “Either two sailors were smoking in the wrong place, or again some security measures were violated,” Oleksiy Arestovych said. he later tweeted that the ship “drowned”.
The Washington Post could not independently verify the accuracy of the claims.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a CNN interview Thursday morning that “there had been an explosion” on the ship, but added that the United States could not immediately determine whether the ship had been hit by a missile.
“We don’t know exactly what happened here. We believe there was an explosion, at least one explosion on this cruiser. Quite a big problem, which caused significant damage to the ship,” he said. He added that the ship was still afloat and was likely heading for Sevastopol to undergo repairs.
The Moskva was operating with other Russian ships about 60 miles south of the port city of Odessa, Kirby said. He added that “the explosion was large enough that we picked up indications that other navy vessels around her were trying to come to her aid, and so ultimately it was apparently not necessary” .
Early Thursday, the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, said on its Telegram channel that it believed the ship had been sunk and sided with the Ukrainian assessment. . “The flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the cruiser Moskva, was indeed attacked by Neptune anti-ship missiles from the coast between Odessa and Nikolaev,” he said. A drone distracted the ship before the missiles hit, he said.
The Ukrainian narrative seems more plausible, said Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Although warships are prone to explosions, “given that there is a war going on and the Ukrainians have this anti-ship capability, it is more likely that it was caused by these cruise missiles”, did he declare.
The Neptune is a locally-built anti-ship missile based on an older Russian missile, the KH-35, which Ukraine helped produce. It has a longer body, bigger booster and more fuel than its Russian predecessor. Fired from a truck-mounted launcher, the missile has a maximum range of 173 to 186 miles.
Ukraine began developing the Neptune missile in 2013 and wanted it to act as a deterrent against Russian sea power off Ukraine’s southeast coast. The missile entered service with the Ukrainian Navy last year.
The Moskva has no major strategic value, but as the flagship of the Black Sea it has symbolic significance, said Artyom Lukin, professor of international relations at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, in Russia.
The vessel is named after the Russian capital and was at the center of a widely reported attack on Snake Island, according to kyiv, when Ukrainian border guards came to worldwide attention for insulting Russian troops early in the invasion.
On Snake Island in Ukraine, a provocative last stand against Russian forces
“The loss of not only one of the main surface combatants of the Russian Navy, but also the flagship of the fleet, would represent a psychological blow for the Russians,” said Collin Koh, maritime security expert at the Technological University. from Nanyang to Singapore.
The idea that Ukrainian missiles hit the Moskva strengthens “the image of fierce Ukrainian resistance” and sows “more doubt in the minds of the Russian military”, especially sailors serving on Russian warships off the southern coast of Ukraine, he added.
Damage to the Moskva is greater due to previous Russian naval losses, said James Black, a Russian military expert at the Rand Corp. Last month, the Ukrainian Navy said it hit a Russian amphibious landing ship in Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port Russian forces have occupied.
Regardless of what caused the damage to the Moskva, “it will likely be seen as poetic justice by Ukrainians and their supporters,” Black said.