Russian nuclear-capable flagship Moskva sinks after Ukrainian missile strike

Russian nuclear capable flagship Moskva sinks after Ukrainian missile strike

Russian missile cruiser Moskva in 2012. Photo: Mil.ru 

Russian Aggression

On 13 April, two Ukrainian cruise missiles reportedly hit the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s nuclear-capable cruiser Moskva (“Moscow”).  On 14 April, the Russian defense ministry admitted that its flagship of the Black Sea Fleet sank. The destroyed ship could have had nuclear warheads aboard, experts say.

Nuclear capable “aircraft carrier killer”

The cruiser Moskva was laid down and built as Slava (“Glory”) at a shipyard in the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv in the late 1970th. Nicknamed “aircraft carrier killer,” this class of ships was designed by the Soviet Union to counter US aircraft carrier groups and provide air defense for Soviet ships on the open seas. The Western name for this class of ships has been Slava after the first ship of this class built by the USSR.

In 2000, Russia recommissioned Slava as Moskva (“Moscow”). In 2008, the ship was deployed near the Georgian coast amid the Russo-Georgian war. The Moskva cruiser took part in the Russian invasion of Crimea in March 2014, blocking the Ukrainian Navy vessels. In 2015-2016, the missile cruiser provided air defense for Russian troops in Syria.

The Moskva could carry 16 anti-ship missiles P-1000 Vulkan, which can be equipped with a 350-kilogram nuclear warhead or a conventional half-ton high-explosive cumulative warhead. The ship was also equipped with the Fort complex, the naval version of the S-300 air defense missile system. It has 64 surface-to-air missiles which can have a so-called “special combat unit,” a nuclear warhead.

At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, the Moskva was part of the navy group that attacked Ukraine’s Zmiinyi (a.k.a. Serpent or Snake) Island, lying about 35 kilometers south off the coast of Odesa Oblast. The audio of Ukrainian border guard Roman Hrybov from the Serpent Island responding Russian warship, go f*ck yourself to the Moskva’s demand to surrender became one of the symbols of the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian aggression, and became viral on the Internet worldwide.

Ukrainian postal stamp “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself” presented by the national postal service Ukrposhta on 12 April features the cruiser Moskva hit on the next day by Ukrainian missiles. Ukrposhta said it has issued one million of such stamps. ~

Ukrainian postal stamp “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself” presented by the national postal service Ukrposhta on 12 April features the cruiser Moskva hit on the next day by Ukrainian missiles. Ukrposhta said it has issued one million of such stamps.

Defense Express interviewed experts, including ship designers and naval officers, and those unanimously and independently gave the following answer: there is a real possibility that the flagship Moskva could have had nuclear munitions.

In the short term, there is no threat from the possible presence of nuclear weapons in the sunk Moskva, Defense Express says.

Russo-Ukrainian War, day 30: Ukraine sank Russian landing ship

Moskva’s last days

In Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the cruiser Moskva led Russia’s naval assault on Ukraine and was central in the blockade of the Black Sea.

Missile cruiser Moskva and its activities in Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Map: H.I. Sutton Twitter/CovertShores, Infographics: NavalNews.com ~

Missile cruiser Moskva and its activities in Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Map: H.I. Sutton Twitter/CovertShores, Infographics: NavalNews.com

Amid the invasion, the Russian flagship Moskva used to operate off the coast of the Ukrainian port Odesa in the Black Sea. As of 7 April, it stayed in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea.

cruiser moskva in sevastopol

The Russian missile cruiser Moskva (bottom right) in port in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea on April 7. Photo: Maxar via CNN

On 10 April, the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship was spotted leaving the harbor of Sevastopol:

russian bsf cruiser moskva

Cruiser Moskva leaving Sevastopol for its last voyage on 10 April 2022. Source

On the same day Maxar Technologies made its last satellite image of the Russian cruiser before clouds hid the area from the satellites:

cruiser moskva

On 14 April after the reports on the attack on the cruiser Moskva, Maxar published this ship’s last image of theirs taken on 10 April on Twitter, in the comment the company noted, “Weather over the Black Sea has been cloudy for the past few days, hampering attempts at new imagery collections of the Russian Moskva cruiser.”

The cruiser was likely to have its standard crew of 510 aboard. The Russian defense ministry stressed in both of its reports on the Moskva incident the ship’s crew was evacuated to nearby Black Sea Fleet ships. However, this claim wasn’t corroborated independently and the personnel losses remain unknown.

The demise of the cruiser Moskva

On the evening of 13 April, Ukrainian military-related sources reported that the Ukrainian Armed Forces inflicted damage on the Russian Slava-class cruiser Moskva in the Black sea, using domestic anti-ship missiles Neptun. Some sources stated that the ship sank.

Later that day, Head of Odesa Regional Administration Maksym Marchenko confirmed the strike on Moskva, saying that the Ukrainian missiles “caused very serious damage to the Russian ship.”

In the early hours of 14 April, the Russian defense ministry admitted that a detonation of the ammunition occurred on Moskva due to a fire. The ministry said that the cruiser remained buoyant with its main weapons not damaged, and towing was being attempted, according to TASS.

At the moment of the incident, the ship was about 75 miles from Odesa, according to Washington Post, or 69 miles away, according to AP. Both media referred to an anonymous senior US defense official.

“All of the northern Black Sea ships have now moved out, away from the northern areas where they were operating in,” according to Pentagon, which likely means an attempt to get out of the range of the Ukrainian missiles.

Russian Telegram channels claimed that a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 drone distracted the attention of the ship’s air defenses from its starboard (right side) while the missiles hit the opposite port (left) board of the cruiser.

An Odesa resident reported on Twitter at 01:45 EEST (UTC+3):

“An intense glow (is visible from) Odesa in the direction of the Khadzhibey Estuary, without sound.”

This report may be related to the moment of the ammunition detonation on the Moskva cruiser or the subsequent fire.

At 2:57, one of the open-source intelligence (OSINT) Twitter accounts wrote that Moskva’s all radio signals disappeared:

About noon, Ukraine’s Operational Command South confirmed the attack on Moskva:

“In the Black Sea operational zone of anti-ship missiles Neptun, the hit cruiser Moskva – Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s flagship – sustained significant damage, a fire erupted. Other units of the navy group tried to provide help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it started sinking.”

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told CNN that there was at least one explosion on the Moskva cruiser but said that the US couldn’t say if it was a missile that hit the vessel.

“We assess that the ship is able to make its own way, and it is doing that; it’s heading more towards, now, we think the east. We think it’s probably going to be putting in at Sevastapol for repairs,” Mr. Kirby added.

Only by the end of the day on 14 April, Russia confirmed the loss of its flagship:

“During the towing of the Moskva cruiser to the port of destination, the ship lost its stability due to damage to the hull received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In the conditions of stormy seas, the ship sank,” Russia’s Defense Ministry reported.

Russian navy’s missile capabilities after the loss of Moskva

Ukrainian expert Andrii Klimenko of the Black Sea News noted,

“After the missile cruiser Moskva bearing 16 cruise missiles was disabled, the total volley of cruise missiles of the Black Sea Fleet ships currently in the Black Sea decreased from 72 to 56.”

However, Moskva didn’t have any Kalibr missiles but rather had the cruise missiles Vulkan designed to attack large surface targets.

Amid its invasion of Ukraine, Russia widely uses its Kalibr ballistic missiles to attack the military and civilian targets in Ukraine. In the Black Sea, the Russian navy now has four ships equipped with eight Kalibr missiles each. Those are two frigates – Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov, and two corvettes – Ingushetia and Grayvoron. Additionally, four Russian submarines – Rostov-on-Don, Stary Oskol, Veliky Novgorod, Kolpino – have four Kalibrs each.

The loss of Moskva greatly reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. Additionally, the sinking of the Russian flagship named after the Russian capital deals a major blow to the Russian navy’s prestige not only internationally, but also domestically.

Further reading:

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