Sinking of the Moskva

14 April 2022 wrecking of a Russian ship during the invasion of Ukraine

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Sinking of the Moskva
Part of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine
A large gray warship moves through open waters. Two helicopters fly overhead.
Moskva seen from the air in 2012
Date14 April 2022; 11 days ago (2022-04-14)
LocationKherson Oblast, Black Sea
Coordinates45°10′43″N 30°55′31″E / 45.17861°N 30.92528°E / 45.17861; 30.92528Coordinates: 45°10′43″N 30°55′31″E / 45.17861°N 30.92528°E / 45.17861; 30.92528
Cause
ParticipantsRussian Navy
Deaths1 killed, 27 missing (per Russia)[1]

The Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, sank on 14 April 2022, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian officials said that their forces hit the ship with two R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles, while Russia said it sank after a fire of unspecified origin in stormy seas.

The ship is the largest warship by tonnage to be sunk in wartime since the end of World War II. Russia said that the crew had been evacuated but unverified reports of casualties have surfaced.

Background

In February 2022, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, left Sevastopol to participate in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.[2] The ship was later used against the Ukrainian armed forces during the attack on Snake Island, together with the Russian patrol boat Vasily Bykov.[3] Moskva hailed the island's garrison over the radio and demanded its surrender, receiving the now-famous reply "Russian warship, go fuck yourself" from its garrison. After this, all contact was lost with Snake Island, and the thirteen-member Ukrainian garrison was captured.[4]

Sinking

Location of Moskva in Black Sea on 12 April 2022 by satellite imagery[5]

Ukrainian account

The first known report of a missile hitting the ship was at 20:42, 13 April 2022 Ukrainian time (EEST, UTC+03:00) with a Facebook post by a Ukrainian volunteer connected to the military.[6] Later that evening presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych reported Moskva was on fire in rough seas and Odessa governor Maksym Marchenko officially confirmed that Ukrainian forces hit Moskva with two R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles, "which caused very serious damage."[7][8] At 12:43, 14 April EEST, the Ukrainian Southern Command posted a video on Facebook with a report stating the ship had received damage within the range of the Neptune anti-ship missile, there was a fire and other vessels in the Moskva's group "tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink."[9]

Russian account

Hours after Marchenko's claim, the Russian Ministry of Defence said that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship had been seriously damaged, without any statement of cause or reference to a Ukrainian strike.[10][11][12][13] The ministry said on 14 April that the missile systems of the cruiser were undamaged, the fire was contained by sailors, and that efforts were underway to tow the ship to port.[14][15] Later on 14 April, the Russian ministry said that Moskva sank while being towed during stormy weather,[16][17] although the weather was reportedly mild.[18] On 15 April, the sinking was briefly reported on Russian news media and television, where it was said to be due to "stormy seas".[16]

Other observations

In the days following the attack there were online, newspaper and newscast reports concerning the Ukrainian claim of a missile strike and the Russian and Ukrainian accounts of an explosion and fire. The United States Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby said early on 14 April that they did not have enough information to confirm a missile strike, but could not rule it out. Imagery they had examined showed the ship had suffered a sizable explosion and a subsequent "significant fire". The cause of the explosion was not clear.[19][20][21][22] Moskva, with fire on board, appeared to be headed towards the port in Sevastopol for repairs;[19] it was unclear whether the vessel was moving under its own power or being towed.[22] There was also a report that one of Moskva's exposed deckside missile tubes was affected.[23]

An open source intelligence (OSINT) image derived from a satellite with cloud-penetrating synthetic aperture radar (SAR) revealed that at 18:52 local time (UTC+03:00) on 13 April 2022, Moskva was located at 45°10′43.39″N 30°55′30.54″E / 45.1787194°N 30.9251500°E / 45.1787194; 30.9251500, about 80 nmi (100 km) south of Odesa, east of Snake Island and around 50 nmi (90 km) from the Ukrainian coast. An analysis suggested this was not long after the damage occurred which caused the ship to eventually sink. In the image the ship is accompanied by other vessels.[24] Authorities from Romania and Turkey declared Moskva had sunk by 03:00, 14 April local time.[25]

Purported missile strike

An R-360 Neptune launcher near Kyiv in 2019

On 15 April, a US senior official stated that they believed Moskva was hit by two Neptune missiles; he also stated that the ship was about 65 nmi (120 km) south of Odesa when it was struck and that it continued onward under its own power before sinking on 14 April. The official also said intelligence appraisals indicated there were casualties at the time of the strike, but he did not know how many.[26][27] The Ukrainian missiles were apparently fired from a land-based launcher near Odesa while Moskva was located 60–65 nautical miles (110–120 kilometres) offshore.[23][14][28][29] The operation to sink Moskva may have been assisted by use of Bayraktar TB2 UCAVs to serve as a distraction.[30]

The cruiser was equipped with a triple-tiered air defense that could have provided an adequate chance of intercepting the incoming Neptune missiles, with 3–4 minutes of radar detection warning.[31] There was no record of the crew activating these systems, including the S-300F and OSA surface-to-air missiles, launching chaff or decoys, electronic jamming, or the last ditch AK-630 close-in weapon systems. It has been suggested by Tayfun Ozberk that the cruiser's radars either failed to detect the incoming Neptune missiles or that the defenses were not ready to engage the detected threat, implying a lack of crew training for such emergency scenarios.[32] With such systems active, the cruiser was expected to survive several strikes from Neptune missiles (150 kg or 320 lb explosives each) due to its large displacement; one salvo combat model scenario indicates that Ukraine would have needed to launch at least eleven Neptune missiles (simultaneously); Moskva could have defeated six of them, with the remaining five getting through the cruiser's defenses and striking the ship, causing just enough hull damage to sink it.[33] One of the missiles appeared to have detonated underneath the bridge.[34] This would require that ship munitions were not detonated by the impact, so poor damage control,[5][16][32] using conscripts instead of mid-grade professionals, and insufficient compartmentation have been suggested as contributing reasons to why the cruiser sank.[35]

Images and video of the sinking ship

By 18 April, two images and a short 3-second video clip were circulating on social media showing Moskva after the fire broke out and prior to the final sinking. The images show the ship listing to port in daylight and calm sea, with signs of extensive fire damage around the central superstructure in addition to the presence of holes at the waterline, and most of the ship's life rafts missing, indicating that some of the crew had evacuated by this point.[36][37][38] According to CNN, "a large Russian rescue tug can be seen dousing the warship with water on the far [starboard] side."[38]

The source or author of the video or images is unknown.[36][37][38] The Telegraph reported the images were first posted to the web via Telegram on a channel linked to Russian security agencies.[39] Analysts who were independently consulted by The Guardian and CNN confirmed that the images appear to show Moskva.[36][38] The Guardian quoted Yörük Işık, a journalist and expert ship spotter, as saying: "I believe the video is real. What we see shape, size. It is the Moskva."[36] The Guardian also reported: "He [Işık] said he believed at least one of the photographs was taken from a Project 22870 rescue tugship, of which Russia is believed to have two in the Black Sea."[36]

A senior US defense official said the images could not be independently verified, "but the images themselves comport with what we had assessed to be the damage done to the ship."[38] Carl Schuster, former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Operations Center, stated: "Assuming the photo is not faked in some way or photo-shopped, it looks like the missile(s) hit forward, which is not unexpected. Anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) tend to go for the center of the radar return, which typically is the forward section of the superstructure."[38] Chris Parry, a former rear admiral, wrote to The Guardian: “It seems that one-two missiles entered the ship just below after the pair of Vulcan anti-ship missiles.... This would have caused massive internal damage and looks to have punctured the two missiles ... which would have drained down propellant fuel that further intensified the fire within the ship by spreading horizontally along the decks and through the damaged bulkheads."[36]

Casualties

Lithuania's defence minister Arvydas Anušauskas said on 14 April that a distress signal had been sent from Moskva that day, and a Turkish ship responded, evacuating 54 personnel from the cruiser at 2 am, before it sank at 3 am. According to him, there were 485 crew on board, of whom 66 were officers. It was not known how many had survived.[40][41][25][42]

Ukrainian sources reported on 15 April that some of Moskva's crew were killed, including First Rank Captain Anton Kuprin (age 43), the ship's commanding officer, at the time of the explosion.[43] On 15 April, a senior US official said the government also believed there had been casualties.[26][44] At a US Department of Defense briefing on 18 April, a senior defense official revealed they had also seen lifeboats in the water with sailors in them but did not have an accurate count.[45] The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe reported some 40 sailors had been killed at the time of the sinking.[46] According to an eyewitness, there were some 200 injured sailors in a hospital in Crimea.[47]

The Russian Ministry of Defense said soon after the sinking that the crew had been evacuated,[43] and initially did not report any casualties; however, some relatives of sailors have been told that their family member was "missing".[48] On 16 April, Russia released a video allegedly showing a meeting in Sevastopol with around 100 sailors of Moskva, along with Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, who said that the sailors would continue their service in the Navy.[44] According to independent Russian online newspaper The Insider, about 100 sailors, and notably the First Rank Captain of the ship Anton Kuprin, are visible in the video.[49] Naval News reported that the Russian Defence Ministry video showed around 240 people survived, about half the crew.[32] The Ukrainian edition of Radio Svoboda, however, says that it is impossible to verify the authenticity of the video.[50]

On 22 April, the Russia defence ministry released a statement confirming that one sailor from the Moskva was killed and 27 were missing, while 396 crew members were rescued.[1][51]

Impact

If Ukraine's assertion that the ship was sunk in a missile strike is true, Moskva is the largest warship to be sunk in action since World War II.[52] The last time a warship of similar size was sunk was the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano, which was sunk by the British Royal Navy submarine Conqueror in 1982 during the Falklands War.[20] Moskva is the largest Soviet or Russian ship to be sunk by enemy action since German aircraft bombed the Soviet battleship Marat in 1941,[53] and the first loss of a Russian flagship in wartime since the 1905 sinking of the battleship Knyaz Suvorov during the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War.[54] If Ukrainian claims are true, Moskva might be the largest warship ever disabled or destroyed by a missile, according to Carl Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center.[20]

The loss of Moskva is considered significant and humiliating to Russian president Vladimir Putin, but "more about psychological damage than material damage" according to Mykola Bielieskov from Ukraine's National Institute for Strategic Studies. He said that it would not completely lift Russia's naval blockade on Ukraine, but showed that Ukraine could employ sophisticated weaponry effectively.[16] The Institute for the Study of War reached similar conclusions and said the loss of the ship may force Russia "to either deploy additional air and point-defense assets to the Black Sea battlegroup or withdraw vessels from positions near the Ukrainian coast."[55]

Moskva was the only warship in Russia's Black Sea Fleet with the S-300F missile system for long-range air defense. It did not itself fire missiles at land targets in Ukraine, but provided anti-aircraft support to vessels that did, and its sinking prompted Russian ships, now less protected, to move further offshore. It is unclear whether Ukraine will be able to capitalize on their increased vulnerability.[16] Retired US Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, told The New York Times that with loss of the ship, in the newspaper's words, "any amphibious assault on Ukraine would be much more dangerous for Russia, with its landing and amphibious ships much more vulnerable to attacks."[56]

While two sister ships of Moskva were deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean as of February 2022,[57] Turkey has for the duration of the war closed the Turkish Straits to belligerent warships whose home port is not in the Black Sea, following the Montreux Convention. Thus, Russia cannot send ships to replace the lost Moskva from its other fleet bases without violating Turkish sovereignty.[58][59]

In 2020, the archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church Sevastopol District said that a supposed fragment of the True Cross would be kept in Moskva's chapel. The True Cross is the cross on which believers say Jesus was crucified and a very rare relic important to many Christians.[60] There was speculation after the ship's sinking that the relic may have gone down with the ship.[61][62][63]

Aftermath

Ukrainian postage stamp, depicting a Ukrainian soldier giving Russian cruiser Moskva the middle finger, issued two days before it sank[64][65]

United States National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the sinking of Moskva "is a big blow to Russia", with Moscow split between a narrative of incompetence and one of having been attacked.[66] Sasaki Takahiro, guest professor on Russian security policy at Hiroshima University, stated in The Asahi Shimbun that the sinking of Moskva is compared with that of Yamato, the battleship of Imperial Japan.[67] US Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said that Moskva's main mission was air defense for the Russian forces in the Black Sea and that its sinking "will have an impact on that capability, certainly in the near term".[68]

According to an analysis by Forbes Ukraine on 14 April 2022, the sinking of Moskva is the most costly single loss for the Russian military in the war to date, and the ship would cost around US$750 million to replace.[69]

Although Russia did not confirm that Ukrainian missiles had hit the ship, Reuters reported that in the morning of 15 April, Russia launched an apparent retaliatory missile strike against the missile factory Luch Design Bureau in Kyiv, where the Neptune missiles allegedly used in the Moskva attack were designed and manufactured.[70]

The sinking of Moskva came two days after Ukrposhta released one million "Russian warship, go fuck yourself" stamps, which show a soldier giving the finger to Moskva. The sinking boosted sales of the stamp in Ukraine.[71] Some people in Ukraine queued for more than two hours to get the stamp.[72] The sinking of Moskva can be seen as resulting in the boosting of the morale of many Ukrainians with a corresponding decrease in the morale of the invading Russian forces.[73] Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the commander of Ukrainian naval forces, was promoted as a reward for the sinking of Moskva.[74]

Russian TV media only discussed the story briefly, while news articles described out-of-date fire-suppression systems and said that the sinking would not have an effect on the war. However, film director and former State Duma member Vladimir Bortko, described by the BBC as "clearly emotional", said the fate of Moskva was grounds for war.[16] On 18 April, Russia-1 state TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov criticised the Russian navy over the sinking;[75][76] Russian commentator Sergei Markov, a strong Kremlin supporter, told the BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the ship had been struck by missiles shipped from Norway, and that its electronic defenses had been neutralised by the USA.[77] Other Russian media speculated that the ship was hit by a Norwegian AGM-119 Penguin missile.[78][better source needed]

A Ukraine-based publication[79] and two defense analysts[80] wrote in the aftermath that Moskva had the capability to carry nuclear warheads, and that it may have been carrying two nuclear warheads at the time of its sinking. They called for neighboring nations to launch an investigation into the possibility of a nuclear accident. There is a slight chance that the Moskva was carrying nuclear warheads for its P-500/P-1000 anti-ship missiles, but there is no evidence indicating that it was doing so.[81] A senior U.S. defense official stated there were no nuclear weapons on the ship when it sank.[36]

Ukraine declared the wreck of the Moskva as having "underwater cultural heritage". It is being advertised as a dive wreck as it is only 80 miles off the coast from Odessa and the water is only 45-50 metres deep. The wreck "can be admired without much diving".[51][82]

The Russian navy was reported to have sent the salvage ship Kommuna with the AS-28 submersible onboard to the wreck, as part of an eight-ship convoy. Kommuna is the oldest active-duty navy ship still in service, at 110 years old. Due to the size of the Moskva and that it sank in one piece, bringing it to the surface is thought to be impractical. The aim is likely to recover encryption material, weapons, bodies and other sensitive material that foreign powers might be interested in.[83] The Kommuna is based with the Black Sea Fleet and sails from Sevastopol. Its presence at the wreck site would expose it to attack by Ukrainian forces.[84]

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