Russia’s flagship cruiser Moskva has sunk in “stormy seas” while being towed to a port in the Black Sea, the Russian defence ministry announced.
The Ukrainian southern military command claimed late on Wednesday to have struck the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship missiles, 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”.
The crew were evacuated to other ships, the ministry said.
The apparent attack and sinking of the Black Sea Fleet 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.
Western officials described the Ukrainian claims to have hit the Moskva with anti-ship missiles as “credible”. A senior US defence official noted that five other Russian vessels which had been as close or closer to the Ukrainian coast as the Moskva had moved at least another 20 nautical miles offshore after the explosion, suggesting an effort to get out of range of Ukrainian missiles.
The Moskva gained notoriety early in the war when the crew demanded the surrender of Ukrainian forces on Snake Island, prompting a riposte from border guards on the island: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”
The phrase instantly became a symbol of national defiance, and is now a universal meme. It has appeared on a new national postage stamp as well as on checkpoints, shop windows, Ukrainian military vehicles and private cars.