Conflicting reports of damage to a top Russian warship in the Black Sea have emerged. While the Ukrainian forces have claimed credit for an alleged missile attack sinking the ship and the Russians say it only suffered damage from a fire.
Late Wednesday, Odessa state regional administrator Maxim Marchenko said a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship cruise missile had struck the Moskva, causing serious damage. Hours later, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged that a key ship in its Black Sea fleet had suffered significant damage.
Russians said they would investigate what had caused the damage and blamed the setback on a fire that had detonated the ship’s ammunition. All of the ship’s approximate 500 crew members were evacuated, it said.
“Either two sailors were smoking in the wrong place, or once again certain safety measures were violated,” Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN. He later tweeted that the ship “drowned.”
“The flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva cruiser, was indeed attacked by the Neptune anti-ship missiles from the coastline between Odessa and Nikolaev,” the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank, said on its Telegram channel. A drone distracted the ship before the missiles hit, it added.
If the 12,000-ton Moskva went under, it would be the largest wartime sinking of a naval vessel since World War II.
The ship is named after Russia’s capital city and was at the center of a widely reported attack on Snake Island, when Ukrainian border guards drew global attention for insulting Russian troops during the early days of the invasion.
“The loss of not just a principal surface combatant in the Russian navy, but also the fleet flagship, would amount to more of a psychological blow to the Russians,” said Collin Koh, an expert on maritime security at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.
The notion that Ukrainian missiles hit the Moskva reinforces “the image of hardened resistance by the Ukrainians” and sows “more doubt in the minds of Russian servicemen,” particularly the sailors serving on Russian warships off Ukraine’s southern coast, he added.