Russia’s defense ministry confirmed on Thursday that an explosion aboard Moskva, the flagship of the country’s Black Sea Fleet, has “seriously damaged” the vessel.
The ministry’s statement said: “The cruiser Moskva’s ammunition has detonated as a result of a fire on the warship. The vessel is seriously damaged. The entire crew have been evacuated. The cause of the blaze is being investigated.”
Ukraine said the 186m-long vessel was struck by their Neptune missiles.
Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych said Russian rescuers were unable to reach the vessel, which could have had as many as 510 crew members on board.
“It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island!” Odessa regional governor Maksym Marchenko wrote in his Telegram post.
Earlier in the war, Ukrainians stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea defied an order from the ship to surrender, telling the Moskva to “go to hell.”
Russia’s flagship loss sends a political and symbolic message
As Maritime Executive reports if the claim by Ukraine is true, the attack might be the most audacious strike yet attempted by Ukraine’s coastal-defense forces.
A previous Ukrainian strike at the port of Berdyansk damaged one Russian tank landing ship and sank another, resulting in an apparent loss of a shipment of munitions. But Moskva is an entirely different kind of warship: she is the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, a Slava-class guided-missile cruiser.
If the strike is confirmed, it adds, it would suggest that Ukraine’s anti-ship missile inventory is capable of penetrating heavy air defenses.
Among Soviet-era vessels, Moskva is the hardest of targets, possessing three fire-control radars, two search radars, two heavy antiaircraft cannons, six 30mm CIWS cannons, 20 short-range surface-to-air missiles, and 64 long-range air defense missiles.
Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College in London, said losing the warship would be a “massive blow” for Russia.
“Ships operate away from public attention and their activities are rarely the subject of news. But they are large floating pieces of national territory, and when you lose one, a flagship no less, the political and symbolic message—in addition to the military loss—stands out precisely because of it,” he told CNN.