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The missile cruiser Mosvka in the Sevastopol Bay. March 2014.

Towed to port Russian warship Moskva ‘seriously damaged’ after Ukraine claims missile strike

Source: Meduza
The missile cruiser Mosvka in the Sevastopol Bay. March 2014.
The missile cruiser Mosvka in the Sevastopol Bay. March 2014.
Valery Sharifulin / TASS

Russia’s missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, sustained “serious damage” and had to be towed back to port on Thursday, April 14. This came after a fire aboard the vessel that broke out on Wednesday evening. Ukrainian officials and media outlets reported that the warship had been struck by two of Ukraine’s Neptune missiles. In turn, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that ammunition on board the vessel exploded in a fire, adding that the cause of the blaze was “being established.”

Update. On Thursday evening, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that due to damage to its haul, the Moskva sank while being towed to port in stormy weather.

Ukrainian journalist Serg Marko reported a missile strike on the Moskva in a Facebook post around 9:00 p.m., Kyiv time, on Wednesday, April 13. The newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda soon reported the same thing, citing intelligence sources and the head of the Odesa Regional Military Administration (OVA). In a post on Telegram, Odesa OVA spokesman Sergey Bratchuk said that even if the fire on board the warship was extinguished, “it will not be combat-ready in the coming year.”

The Russian Defense Ministry stated that there was a fire aboard the cruiser after midnight on Thursday, claiming that it had caused ammunition to detonate. “The ship was seriously damaged. The crew has been completely evacuated,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. This implies that the cruiser is out of commission, since the crew’s duties included fighting for the survivability of the ship so long as it can still be saved. 

On Thursday afternoon, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the fire had been contained, the ammunition explosions had ceased, and the warship’s main missile system was undamaged. The ministry added that the cruiser would be towed back to port. In turn, the Operational Command South of the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed (without disclosing further details) that due to the damage inflicted, the cruiser “began to sink.”

The Russian Defense Ministry has yet to report any casualties resulting from the incident. The Moskva’s crew can number up to 680 members in total. According to Russian media reports, the crew usually consists of around 500 people. 

Where in the Black Sea the Moskva was located at the time of the fire remains unknown. According to RFE/RL’s Russian service, the warship was spotted in Sevastopol on April 10. The Russian Defense Ministry and Russian state media have not released any information about the vessel’s whereabouts. However, Ukrainian intelligence sources told Ukrayinska Pravda that the ship was located “about 20 nautical miles from Zmiinyi Island.” In the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Moskva became infamous after it urged Ukrainian border troops on Zmiinyi Island to surrender, only to be told in response: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

The Moskva during military drills. September 2012.
Vadim Savitsky / TASS

What losing the Moskva means

One of the cruiser’s main tasks is providing anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses for all of the Black Sea fleet’s forces: the ship is armed with S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. 

The Moskva being out of commission could seriously weaken the defenses of the fleet’s forces involved in the war against Ukraine, leaving them vulnerable to air attacks. The Moskva is the only ship of its class still in service (Russia also has the Pacific Fleet’s flagship Varyag and the Northern Fleet’s cruiser Marshal Ustinov), which, when undergoing modernization, was not equipped with new radars capable of effectively detecting low-flying targets like Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles.

The Moskva’s displacement is 9,800–11,300 tons. If the cruiser can’t be saved, it will be the largest combat loss of the world’s fleets since the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano 1982. 

What we know about the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship

According to the Russian Defense Ministry’s website, the missile cruiser Moskva (formerly Slava, the Russian word for “Glory”), was laid down in 1976 at the 61 Kommunara Shipbuilding Plant in what is today Mykolayiv, Ukraine. The warship was commissioned into the fleet seven years later and became the lead ship of the Soviet missile cruisers project, which was primarily tasked with attacking enemy surface vessels with anti-ship missiles. 

When the Black Sea Fleet was divided between Russia and Ukraine in the 1990s, the Moskva went to Russia. Kyiv received an unfinished missile cruiser of the same class, the Ukraina, which remains moored at the Mykolayiv Shipyard and may have come under fire by Russian artillery in March 2022. 

The Moskva during a parade in Sevastopol. July 2018.
Sergey Malgavko / TASS

Since its transfer to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva has been refitted twice (the last upgrade was completed in 2020 and was supposed to allow the cruiser to remain in service until 2040). Following its last refit, the cruiser was mainly armed with Vulkan anti-ship missiles. 

The Moskva rehearsing for a parade in Sevastopol. July 2021.
Alexey Pavlishak / TASS

In 1989, the warship’s crew accompanied a summit between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George H. W. Bush in Malta. In 1999, the cruiser, under the name Moskva, was deployed to the Black Sea Fleet’s main base in Sevastopol.

President Vladimir Putin has visited the ship with other world leaders on more than one occasion. During visits to Sevastopol in 2000 and 2001, Putin boarded the cruiser with Ukraine’s then President Leonid Kuchma. 

In 2008, the Moskva was involved in the armed conflict in South Ossetia. In 2015–2016, the cruiser provided air defenses for Russian forces operating out of the Khmeimim Air Base in Syria.

Translation by Eilish Hart

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