The Ukrainian southern military command claimed late on Wednesday to have struck the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles, while distracting its crew with an aerial drone, causing it to start sinking and forcing the crew to abandon ship.
Russia’s defence ministry initially denied reports that it had sunk and claimed the fires had been extinguished. Four Russian ships that had gone to the Moskva’s rescue were being hampered by stormy weather and by ammunition blowing up onboard, it said.
But late on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement: “The cruiser ship Moskva lost its stability when it was towed to the port because of the damage to the ship’s hull that it received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In stormy sea conditions, the ship sank.”
Russia had said earlier that the crew of more than 500 crew were evacuated from the Soviet-era missile cruiser to other ships.
The apparent attack and sinking of the Black Sea fleet’s flagship – 50 days after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine – represents a symbolic blow to the Kremlin. The Moskva was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet and the most prestigious vessel involved in the war against Ukraine.
“The sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, is not just a significant loss, it is emblematic of the shambolic Russian military campaign,” said Michael Kofman, research programme director and Russia expert at the Center for Naval Analyses.
Commissioned in 1983, the ship was armed with 16 anti-ship Vulkan cruise missiles with a range of at least 440 miles (700km). According to reports, it was also carrying S-300 anti-air missiles, which are crucial to Russia’s air superiority over Crimea and Ukraine’s Kherson province, now occupied by Russian troops.
It is the most significant naval vessel to be sunk since the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano was torpedoed by a British submarine, HMS Conqueror in 1982. It is the first time Moscow has lost a cruiser since German planes sunk the Chervona Ukraina (Red Ukraine) in 1941 at Sevastopol – the same Crimean naval base where the Moskva was being to towed towards when it sank.