Ukraine claims missile strike on Russian Black Sea fleet flagship Moskva
On 13 April, Russian sailors were forced to abandon the flagship of the Russian Navy's Black Sea fleet, the cruiser Moskva, which suffered significant damage after a claimed Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile strike.
Both sides of the conflict have claimed different reasons for the damage to the ship, with Russian state media stating a fire broke out on board, which detonated ammunition.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not state the cause of the fire but did admit that the cruiser was 'seriously damaged'.
Russian state media added that the ship's crew had been fully evacuated.
For its part, a Ukrainian official claimed that the ship had been struck by two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles - a homegrown system based on the Soviet-era Kh-35 design.
Both countries' claims remain unverified at this time.
On 14 April, according to reports from TASS, Russia claimed to have the fire on board the ship under control, adding that ammunition explosions had stopped. The report added that Russian MoD stated the cruiser was still afloat.
Elsewhere offering another story in a Facebook post, Lithuanian Minister for National Defence Arvydas Anusauskas claimed that Moskva had sunk overnight.
The damage to the ship is likely to be seen as a significant political coup for the embattled Kyiv as it continues to resist the ongoing Russian invasion.
If confirmed, the strike would make it the first use of the Neptune missile during the conflict.
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) senior research fellow and editor of RUSI defence systems Justin Bronk told Shephard the incident was interesting from an air power perspective, as the loss of Moskva's significant air defence coverage will reduce the threat to Ukrainian aircraft near Kyiv's south coast.
Bronk added: 'However, there are still long range S-400 batteries in Crimea and significant numbers of medium and short ranged mobile SAMs with Russian forces on the ground, not to mention the presence of large numbers of Russian fighters stationed in Crimea and near Krasnodar, so the practical impact in that sense is likely to be limited.'
For now, Bronk said the political significance of losing such a prestigious vessel was likely the most significant impact of the damage to the ship.
Moskva is a Slava-class (Project 1164) cruiser, a smaller version of the Kirov-class battlecruisers.
In a Twitter thread, King's College Professor of War and Strategy in East Asia and naval expert Alessio Patalano said the incident raised questions about Russian CONOPS, underestimation of Ukrainian forces, and Russian preparation and readiness.
Patalano added: 'Politically, explaining why Russia could lose its flagship in the theatre where it has sea control is going to be hard - or even hide it.'
According to Shephard Defence Insight, the Slava-class vessels are equipped with 16 Chelomey SS-N-12 Sandbox launchers for SSMs, eight SA-N-20 Gargoyle vertical launchers for 64 SAMs, and two SA-N-4 Gecko twin retractable launchers for 40 more SAMs.
Moskva was commissioned in 1982 and later went through a long overhaul in the 1990s, re-entering service in April 2000.
Shephard Defence Insight notes that the ship was due to begin modernisation in 2015; however, this was delayed due to a lack of funds.
Neptune was officially adopted by Ukrainian Armed Forces in August 2020, following successful test firings at a site near Odessa earlier that year.
The missile was developed and manufactured by Ukroboronprom subsidiary Luch Design Bureau to enhance the capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
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The sinking in April of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship, although not evidence of a major change in the naval domain, is a far cry from the pre-emptive scuttling of Ukraine’s own flagship. The donation of increasingly advanced materiel demonstrates increased faith in Ukraine’s ability to resist the Russian invaders.