The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, a guided-missile cruiser that had been a formidable target of Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the conflict, sunk on April 14 after being severely damaged, marking the latest defeat for Moscow’s invasion efforts in the Black Sea.
Ukrainian authorities claimed that their troops fired missiles at the vessel, while Russian officials admitted that there was a fire onboard the Moskva but denied that there had been an assault on the vessel itself.
The loss of the battleship named after Russia’s capital is a catastrophic symbolic blow for Moscow, which is reorganising its forces in preparation for a fresh onslaught in eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from most of the country’s northern region, which includes the city of Moscow.
A storm caused the ship to sink, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, while it was being towed to a harbour. Russia had previously said that the fires aboard the ship, which had a crew of 500 sailors on board, caused the entire crew to flee the vessel. Later, the company said that the flames had been brought under control and that the ship will be pulled back to port with its missile launchers still operationally intact.
As a result, Russia’s naval capability in the Black Sea has been reduced by the loss of the ship, which was capable of transporting 16 long-range cruise missiles. It’s also a hit to Russian reputation during a conflict that is largely seen as a historical disaster already. Because of opposition from Ukrainian forces, who have received guns and other assistance from Western countries, Russia’s invasion has been halted in its eighth week.
The Moskva was reputedly the battleship that, during the early days of the conflict, called on Ukrainian forces stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender after a standoff. On one widely distributed clip, one soldier said, “Russian ships, go (expletive) yourself,” according to the tape.
It was the news of the damage to the Russian flagship that eclipsed Russian claims of progress in the southern port city of Mariupol, where the Russians have been engaged in some of the most intense combat of the conflict – at a terrible cost to civilians — from the beginning of the invasion.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, claimed on Wednesday that 1,026 Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at a metals facility in the city. Denysenko, an assistant to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, however, denied the report and said on Current Time TV that “the war for the ports is still going on today”.
Russian state media presented video from Mariupol, which it said showed scores of men in camouflage going with their hands up and carrying others on stretchers, according to the broadcast. A white flag was held by one of the participants.
A small band of Ukrainian soldiers is holding out against a Russian siege that has imprisoned more than a million residents who are in severe need of food, water, and warmth.
For Russia, the seizure of Mariupol is essential because it would enable its forces in the south, who have advanced through the occupied Crimean Peninsula, to completely join up with soldiers in the eastern Donbas area, which is Ukraine’s industrial heartland and the focus of the next operation.
Officials from the United States’ Department of Defense said the Russian military is continuing to gather helicopters and other equipment for such an operation, and it will likely deploy additional ground combat forces “in the coming days.” The exact timing of Russia’s larger attack in the Donbass remains unknown, though.
Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, insurgents supported by Moscow have been fighting Ukraine in the Donbass region. Russia has acknowledged the independence of the rebel-held portions of the Donbass region in the Ukraine.
A ship was hit by two Neptune missiles fired from Ukraine, according to Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odesa region, which lies across the Black Sea to the northwest of Sevastopol. The ship sustained “severe damage,” according to Marchenko.
As a consequence of the fire, munitions on board exploded, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. It was not immediately clear what sparked the fire. Apparently, no damage was done to the “principal missile weapons.” Various weapons on board included air defence missiles and other types of weaponry in addition to the cruise missiles.
According to Ukrainian officials, the Neptune anti-ship missile is based on an older Soviet concept and was recently improved by their country. As reported by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the missiles can reach targets up to 280 kilometres (175 miles) distant from the launchers, which are placed on trucks stationed along the shore. If you go back to where the fire started, that would have placed the Moskva in striking distance.
Several other Russian ships that were also in the northern Black Sea were forced to withdraw farther south after the fire on the Moskva, according to a senior United States defence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
According to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the United States was unable to verify Ukraine’s assertions that the vessel was struck. However, he described it as “a major setback for Russian democracy”
He spoke at the Economic Club of Washington, saying, “They’ve got to pick between two stories: one is that it was just ineptitude on their side, and the other is that they were targeted, and neither is a really favourable conclusion for them.”