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The Russian missile cruiser that was damaged in a fire on Thursday was hit and eventually sunk by Ukrainian missile fire, a senior US defense official confirmed on Friday. Russia and Ukraine had offered different accounts of what had happened to the ship.
The defense source confirmed the ship was hit by two Neptune missiles and told NPR there were likely casualties.
Experts say the loss of the Moskva – the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – is significant both symbolically and militarily, even if it does not deal a decisive blow to Russia’s overall operations.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a fire broke out on board, causing munitions to explode and prompting the evacuation of its crew, believed to number around 500. Ukraine claims responsibility, claiming she hit the ship with two Neptune anti-ship missiles about 60 miles off Odessa.
The defense source confirmed the ship was hit by two Neptune missiles and told NPR there were “probable casualties.”
Russian defense officials later said the ship sank while being towed to shore in stormy weather – although weather reports said conditions in the Black Sea were mild.
While the loss of a ship won’t immobilize the Russian Navy, it does reinforce the narrative that Ukrainian troops can still deliver powerful blows by being more nimble and creative, as NPR’s Greg Myre reports. This is the second large ship lost by Russia off the coast of Ukraine in recent weeks.
The Pentagon previously noted that other Russian warships in the northern Black Sea moved away from the coast after Thursday’s episode, raising questions about Russia’s claim that it is it was an accident.
Back. Admiral James Foggo, who commanded US naval forces for Europe and Africa, said earlier Thursday that while the forensics of what happened had taken time to determine, the significance of the loss was clear – especially since the flagship of any navy is “the biggest and the best and the brightest.”
“It’s a terribly humiliating blow for the Russian Navy, and it’s pretty amazing that they can allow this to happen,” Foggo told Morning Edition.
Here’s what we know about the sunken ship’s history and significance.
The Cold War-era ship played a role in the conflicts in Georgia and Syria
The star of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has a legacy that dates back to the Cold War.
The ship was built in then-Soviet Ukraine – in the southern city of Mykolaiv, which has been heavily shelled by Russian forces in recent days – and launched in 1979. She was originally named “Slava” (meaning “glory”) but was renamed for Russia’s capital after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Reuters.
The ship, which carried nuclear weapons during the Cold War, has also served as a venue for meetings between heads of state, with Russian President Vladimir Putin inviting world leaders aboard for talks. He also helped conduct scientific research during peacetime with the United States, according to the Associated Press.
The Moskva was involved in operations in the Black Sea during Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008, and Al Jazeera reports that Georgian authorities claim the vessel took part in an attack on the country.
He then briefly participated in a blockade of the Ukrainian Navy as part of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the following year provided air defense for Russian forces operating in Syria.
Ukrainian officials say it’s the same vessel that gained renewed notoriety at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, when its crew called on Ukrainian border troops defending the strategic Snake Island to surrender – only to be memorably denied with profanity. (The troops were originally believed to have been killed, but were actually captured and released in a prisoner exchange in early March.)
The challenge to Snake Island has become a defining moment in the war and a rallying cry for Ukraine, which recently unveiled a commemorative postage stamp honoring the soldiers.
The loss of the ship is a victory for Ukraine, but will not devastate the Russian operation
The loss of the Moskva is a major propaganda victory for Ukraine, especially given its perceived involvement in the Snake Island incident, according to US think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The ISW says the ship’s sinking is a boon to Ukrainian morale as a symbol of its ability to fight back against the Russian Navy. And, on the other side, he says that the Kremlin will have a hard time explaining what happened.
“The two explanations for the sinking of the Moscow point to possible Russian deficiencies – either poor air defenses or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet,” the document said.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made similar comments on Thursday, saying the potential narratives from Russia are either that it was attacked or was incompetent, and neither was gives a particularly good result.
But while the loss of the Moskva may be embarrassing for Russia, it is unlikely to significantly harm its overall military operations.
The ship had the capacity to carry 16 long-range cruise missiles (as well as air defense missiles and other guns), so its absence will somewhat reduce Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. It had recently undergone a complete refit to improve its capacity and only returned to operational status in 2021, the The UK Ministry of Defense tweeted.
The ISW says the loss of the Moskva should not “deal a decisive blow to Russian operations as a whole”.
Still, that doesn’t mean Russia won’t change its strategy in light of the incident.
“Ukraine’s possibly demonstrated ability to target Russian warships in the Black Sea, however, could alter Russian operation patterns, requiring them to either deploy additional air and point defense assets to the battle group of the Black Sea or to withdraw ships from positions close to the Ukrainian coast,” he added. added.
Foggo, the retired admiral, said the Moskva incident serves as a wake-up call that the war is not just on land. He added that if the Ukrainians did indeed have Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles like the ones they claimed to have used on Thursday, Russian forces are likely worried that one of their ships may be in danger when they approach the shore.
It joins a list of other Russian warships lost during the conflict
News organizations had previously noted how significant Ukraine’s claims would be, if verified.
Reuters said if Ukraine’s claims about the missile strikes are true, the attack on the Moskva River could become one of the most publicized naval attacks of the century.
Citing military analysts, he said it would be the largest Russian warship damaged by enemy fire since German dive bombers hit a Soviet battleship in St Petersburg’s Kronshtadt harbor in 1941.
And it’s not the first time an onboard explosion has disabled a flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – the battleship Imperatritsa Maria is said to have sunk in 1916 after an explosion involving munitions.
The AP reported that if Ukraine had indeed hit the cruiser with missiles, it would likely be the largest warship sunk in combat since a similarly sized cruiser was torpedoed by a British submarine. during the Falklands War in 1982.