One of the Russian Navy’s most important warships has been badly damaged in the Black Sea, a massive blow to a military struggling against Ukrainian resistance 50 days into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his neighbor.
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 Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.
Russia’s defense ministry said Thursday that the Moskva “remains afloat” and that measures were being taken to tow it to port. The ministry said the crew had been evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet ships in the area.
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.
Whatever the reason for the fire, analysts say it strikes hard at the heart of the Russian Navy as well as national pride, comparable to the US Navy losing a battleship during World War II or an aircraft carrier today.
What we know about the Russian warship: The 611-foot-long (186 meters) Moskva, with a crew of almost 500, is the pride of the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea. Originally commissioned into the Soviet Navy as the Slava in the 1980s, it was renamed Moskva in 1995 and after a refit reentered service in 1998, according to military site Naval-Technology.com.
The Moskva is armed with a range of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles as well as torpedoes and naval guns and close-in missile defense systems.
The Moskva also poses symbolic significance to Ukraine, as it was one of the ships involved in the famous exchange at Snake Island in February, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
According to a purported audio exchange in late February, as the Russians approached the Ukrainian garrison on Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, in the Black Sea, a Russian officer said: “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”
A Ukrainian soldier responded: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”
If the Moskva is lost, it would be the second large Russian naval vessel to suffer that fate during Moscow’s war with Ukraine.
In late March, Ukraine said a missile strike had destroyed a Russian landing ship at the port of Berdiansk.