The pride of Russia’s fleet, and its only surface vessel capable of carrying nuclear weapons, lies beneath the unforgiving waves of the Black Sea today. Whether its loss came about from Ukrainian anti-ship missiles, a separate onboard fire, Russian incompetence or some combination of three remains debatable.
At this hour, the Russian defense ministry claims stored munitions deep in the bowels of the warship exploded, crippling the Moskva. The Kremlin adds that the ship sunk in heavy seas as rescue craft attempted to tow it back to port.
Ukraine maintains that it struck the Russian cruiser with Neptune missiles and that the resulting explosion ignited the ship’s ammo caches. U.S. officials reportedly believe Ukraine’s version of events with “medium confidence.”
Russian state television was especially bellicose following the disaster.
The pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has suffered catastrophic damage.
Whether it was caused by Neptune cruise missiles fired by Ukraine or an internal explosion depends on whether you believe the Ukrainian government or the Kremlin.
Regardless, Russian first responders have evacuated the surviving crew of the cruiser Moskva. By all accounts, the critically important warship is floundering, if not outright sinking.
As CNN reports:
Russian sailors evacuated the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, after a fire that detonated ammunition aboard, Russia’s defense ministry said. Ukraine’s Operational Command South claimed Thursday that the Moskva had begun to sink after it was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.
“In the Black Sea operational zone, Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles hit the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet — it received significant damage,” the statement said. “A fire broke out. Other units of the ship’s group tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told CNN’s Brianna Keilar that “there was an explosion” on the Moskva, but said the United States cannot say at this point if the ship was hit by a missile.
Moskva has played an integral role in Russian attacks against Southern Ukraine. It is best known for neutralizing Ukrainian defenses on Snake Island.
An unidentified soldier on the remote but strategically important island famously told Moskva’s captain to “go f— yourself,” when presented with an ultimatum calling for the garrison’s unconditional surrender.
Despite Thursday’s setback for Russia, fierce fighting continues in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine. Virtually everyone expects a major Russian offensive to attempt to seize the resource-rich eastern third of the country in the coming weeks.
As many as 20,000 Russian soldiers have died thus far. Many thousands of Ukrainian troops have also perished, though their losses in men, and especially material, are believed to be less than Russia’s.
As with most conflicts in the modern era, civilians have suffered the most grievously. In Mariupol alone, the mayor says the remains of up to 20,000 residents remain buried under the rubble.