Russia’s defence ministry has said the Moskva naval missile cruiser, its flagship vessel in the Black Sea, has sunk, dealing a significant blow to Moscow’s offensive in southern Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said on Thursday that the Russian vessel had been hit by one of their anti-ship missiles, causing an explosion on board.
The Pentagon assessed that the ship had “experienced significant damage” and was battling a fire, a senior US defence official said. “We can’t say definitively what caused this explosion and the subsequent fire,” the person added. “It could have been the result of a missile strike and it could have been something else. We just don’t know.”
Russia’s Black Sea flagship has been sunk, Moscow’s defence ministry finally admitted tonight, after Kyiv officially claimed earlier to have been behind a double-missile strike late on Wednesday off the coast of Ukraine.
The Moskva – a huge Soviet-era missile cruiser – sank as it was towed back to port in stormy weather following an explosion and fire, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.
Ukraine says the fire on board was caused by two Neptune cruise missiles fired by one of its batteries near the port city of Odesa. Hundreds of sailors may have died in the strike.
Kyiv said earlier that it was behind an attack that it claimed caused the warship to ‘start sinking’, as naval analysts said the vessel and its 510-strong crew were left sitting ducks after sailing in predictable patterns within range of Ukraine’s coastal missile batteries.
The Kremlin had been attempting to downplay the damage, saying earlier today a fire had been contained. It claimed the vessel remained afloat, and would be towed into port. It also made no mention of a Ukrainian attack.
However, tonight Russia’s state news agency TASS quoted the defence ministry as saying: ‘While being towed … towards the destined port, the vessel lost its balance due to damage sustained in the hull as fire broke out after ammunition exploded. Given the choppy seas, the vessel sank.’
The loss of the warship is the latest Russian military disaster since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine of February 24. The assault has not gone to plan, with Moscow’s forces taking heavy losses and failing to seize major cities – and instead have been pushed back in many regions by the fierce Ukrainian resistance.
Now, the Kremlin will be asking how its Black Sea flagship was destroyed by a country with no operational navy. Since the war broke out, Russia’s naval forces have been positioned off the coast of Ukraine to provide support to its ground troops, and to block off Kyiv’s access to the coast.
Earlier, a United States defence official said that Russia had moved its other vessels 80 miles away from the Ukrainian shore – a suspected attempt to get out of missile range – after the ship was damaged.
Ukraine’s Southern Military Command said today that it hit the warship late Wednesday, causing significant damage and starting a fire on board. Russian rescue ships were hampered by ammunition exploding on board as well as bad weather and the Moskva has now started sinking, the commanders added at the time.