[News] A Russian warship in the Black Sea was sunk by Ukrainian missiles, U.S. official says


The Russian missile cruiser that was damaged in a fire on Thursday was hit and ultimately sunk by Ukrainian missile strikes, a senior U.S. defense official confirmed on Friday. Russia and Ukraine had offered differing accounts of what happened to the vessel.

The defense source confirmed the ship was hit by two Neptune missiles, and told NPR there are 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 doesn't deal a decisive blow to Russia's overall operations.

Russia's Defense Ministry has said that a fire broke out on board, causing munitions to explode and prompting the evacuation of its crew, which is believed to number about 500. Ukraine claims responsibility, saying it hit the vessel with two Neptune anti-ship missiles about 60 miles off the coast of Odesa.

The defense source confirmed the ship was hit by two Neptune missiles, and told NPR there are "likely casualties."

Russian defense officials said later that the vessel sank while being towed to shore in stormy weather – though weather reports indicate that conditions in the Black Sea were mild.

While losing one vessel isn't going to immobilize the Russian navy, it reinforces the narrative that Ukrainian troops can still deliver powerful blows by being more agile and creative, as NPR's Greg Myre reports. This is the second major vessel Russia has lost off the coast of Ukraine in recent weeks.

The Pentagon previously noted that other Russian warships in the northern Black Sea moved further away from the coast following Thursday's episode, which raised questions about Russia's claim that it was an accident.

Ret. Admiral James Foggo, who commanded U.S. Naval forces for Europe and Africa, said earlier on Thursday that while the forensics of what happened took time to be determined, the significance of the loss was clear – especially since the flagship of any navy is "the biggest and the best and the brightest."

"This is a terribly humiliating blow to the Russian navy, and it's rather astonishing that they can allow this to happen to themselves," Foggo told Morning Edition.

Here's what we know about the history and significance of the sunken ship.

The Cold War-era ship played roles in conflicts in Georgia and Syria

The star of Russia's Black Sea Fleet has a legacy dating back to the Cold War.

The ship was built in then-Soviet Ukraine – in the southern city of Mykolaiv, which has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces in recent days – and launched in 1979. It originally bore the name "Slava" (which means "glory") but was renamed for Russia's capital after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Reuters.

The vessel, which carried nuclear weapons during the Cold War, has also served as the site of meetings between heads of state, with Russian President Vladimir Putin inviting world leaders on board for talks. It also helped conduct peacetime scientific research with the U.S., 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 say the ship took part in an attack on the country.

It later 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 ship 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 refused with profanity. (The troops were originally believed to have been killed, but were actually taken captive and released in a prisoner swap in early March.)

The defiance at Snake Island has become a defining moment of the war and a rallying cry for Ukraine, which recently unveiled a commemorative postage stamp in the soldiers' honor.

The loss of the vessel is a win for Ukraine, but won't devastate the Russian operation

The loss of the Moskva constitutes a major propaganda victory for Ukraine, especially given its perceived involvement in the Snake Island incident, according to U.S.-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

ISW says the ship's sinking provides a boon to Ukrainian morale as a symbol of its capabilities to strike back at the Russian navy. And, on the other side, it says the Kremlin will struggle to explain what happened.

"Both explanations for the sinking of the Moskva indicate possible Russian deficiencies — either poor air defenses or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet's flagship," it says.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made similar comments on Thursday, saying Russia's potential narratives are either that it came under attack or was incompetent, and neither offers a particularly good outcome.

But while the loss of the Moskva may be embarrassing for Russia, it's not likely to significantly hurt 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 shrink Russia's firepower in the Black Sea. It had recently undergone an extensive refit to improve its capability and had only returned to operational status in 2021, the U.K. defense ministry tweeted.

The ISW says the loss of the Moskva is unlikely to "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 may change Russian operating patterns, however, forcing them to either deploy additional air and point-defense assets to the Black Sea battlegroup or withdraw vessels from positions near the Ukrainian coast," it added.

Foggo, the retired admiral, said that the Moskva incident serves as a wake-up call that the war isn't only taking place on land. He added that if Ukrainians do actually have Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles like the ones they claimed they used on Thursday, Russian forces are likely worried that any of their ships could be in jeopardy when they get close to the shoreline.

It joins a list of other Russian warships lost during conflict

News outlets had previously noted how significant Ukraine's claims would be, if verified.

Reuters said that if Ukraine's claims of missile strikes are true, the attack on the Moskva could take its place as one of the highest-profile naval attacks of the century.

Citing military analysts, it reported this would be the biggest Russian warship damaged by enemy fire since German dive bombers hit a Soviet battleship in Kronshtadt harbor in St. Petersburg in 1941.

And this isn't the first time that an onboard explosion took a flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet out of action — it says the Imperatritsa Maria dreadnought battleship sank in 1916 after an explosion involving ammunition.

The AP reported that if Ukraine did in fact hit the cruiser with missiles, it likely represents the largest warship to be sunk in combat since a similarly-sized cruiser was torpedoed by a British submarine in the 1982 Falklands War.

Post a Comment