On Thursday, Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet that
served in battles in Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine, sank after a fire of unknown
origin detonated the ship’s stored munitions. The warship sank in stormy seas
while being towed to a nearby port, Russia said.
Ukraine, on the other hand, claims that it fired anti-ship cruise
missiles at the Moskva, which caused the fire that detonated the ammunition.
The sinking of the ship was hailed by US authorities as a
“big blow,” but they were unable to determine whether Ukrainian
Neptune missiles were responsible.
“It’s certainly plausible and possible that [Ukraine] did in
fact hit this with a Neptune missile or maybe more,” said Pentagon
spokesman John Kirby.
The ship, which would usually have about 500 sailors on board, was
thought to be located in the Black Sea somewhere off the Ukrainian port of
Odessa at the time of the fire.
The Moskva was one of a set of ships developed by the Soviet Union
in the late 1970s to oppose US aircraft carrier groups and provide air defence
for Soviet ships operating in distant oceans. They were dubbed “carrier
killers” at the time.
In July 1979, the Slava, later renamed Moskva, was launched from a
shipyard in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. It was
commissioned in December 1982 and was 186 metres (610 feet) long, with a crew
of 476 people and an additional 62 commanders.
During the Cold War, the Slava was the Soviet fleet’s flagship in
the Black Sea, with deck guns, torpedoes, and mortars, as well as nuclear
weapons. There was also a helicopter deck on board.
This is not the first time it has taken part in the Russian
invasion of Ukraine. In March 2014, as part of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the
Moskva took part in a brief blockade of the Ukrainian navy.
What does it mean for Russia?
The most significant impact could be on Russian morale. In the
Ukraine war, the Moskva was one of its most visible assets. Though Moscow
carefully regulates news about the Russian war, it will be difficult to conceal
information of such a ship, especially in light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
And its loss, whether caused by hostile action or by chance, will
cast doubt on Russia’s fighting capabilities.
According to analysts, the ship was largely utilised for cruise
missile strikes on Ukrainian logistics hubs and airfields. They said Russia
possesses land-based systems and strike planes capable of doing the same thing.
They did add, though, that if the sinking was caused by a
Ukrainian missile, the Russian navy would have to reassess its operations,
including sending ships further away from Ukrainian borders and altering air
The Moskva’s primary role, according to Pentagon spokesperson John
Kirby, was air defence for Russian forces in the Black Sea. “It will have
an impact on that capability, certainly in the near term,” Kirby told
The Moskva is Russia’s second most significant vessel to be lost
since the invasion began. In March, the Saratov landing ship was destroyed by a
Ukrainian attack in the harbour of Berdyansk, a Sea of Azov Ukrainian port
seized by Russia.