The sinking of one of Russia’s most formidable warships, the Moskva, is a blow to the country – whether the ship sank after an accidental fire, as Russia’s Defense Ministry claims, or after being hit by missiles, as Ukraine claims.
According to Russian news agencies, the Moskva was one of the Russian Navy’s largest ships and the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, measuring over 600 feet in length and weighing 12,500 tons.
This body of water, whose coastline is shared with several other countries including Ukraine, Georgia and Turkey, has been of strategic importance to Russia for centuries.
The Moskva was deployed in support of Russian aircraft and troops in Syria in 2015 and patrolled the coast of Georgia in 2008 during the Russo-Georgian war.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Moskva — armed with 16 Vulkan rocket launchers with a range of more than 400 miles, according to state Russian media — and the rest of the Black Sea Fleet have fired missiles into Ukraine multiple times. The ships also cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea and the associated economic lifeline.
Although military analysts said the loss of the Moscow River was unlikely to change the course of the war, it was an embarrassment to the Russian military, which has spent billions of dollars modernizing its weapons.
The ship has the ability to do “significant damage” in the Black Sea, said Gary Roughead, a retired admiral and former chief of US naval operations. He added that with the sinking of the Moscow River, Russia most likely lost a key communications and control platform.
The loss of the Moscow River was estimated at $750 million by Forbes Ukraine and is Russia’s costliest military loss in the war to date.
The ship was also a symbol of national pride. Its name was Glory when it first entered service for the Soviet Navy in the early 1980s. According to Russian state media, it was renamed after the Russian capital in 1996.
“Imagine the aircraft carrier USS George Washington going to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean,” said James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, of the ship’s symbolism.
“It’s a significant blow to their prestige to lose something like that,” said Admiral Rauhkopf, adding, “It calls into question the readiness of the fleet.”
The Moskva is the same ship, Ukrainian officials said, that was famously and obscenely turned away by Ukrainian border guards at Snake Island in February.
The Russian Defense Ministry said all of the Moskva’s crew members – normally around 500 – had been evacuated. The ship will now join an unknown number of other ships, some more than a millennium old, at the bottom of the Black Sea.
Jacob Shine contributed reporting.