Russia and Ukraine: why the sinking of the Moskva is a serious blow to Russian morale and its naval strength

It has been described as a hard blow for the Russians, “more psychological than material damage.”

The Moskva, Russia’s flagship Black Sea missile cruiser, sank after an “explosion” on Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed.

The ship was being towed to port when “stormy seas” caused it to capsize, according to a statement.

kyiv says its missiles hit the ship of war.

Moscow has not reported any attacks and says the ship sank after a fire caused the ship’s ammunition to explode.

According to the Ukrainian military, the Moskva was hit with locally made Neptune missiles, a weapon that was designed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The United States described the news as a “major blow”, but its officials could not confirm whether Ukrainian Neptune missiles were responsible for the sinking of the ship.

At 12,490 tons, the Moskva it is the largest russian warship that has sunk in combat since World War II.

BBC

The 510-man missile cruiser was an important symbol of Russia’s military might and was leading the naval assault on Ukraine.

Now Russia will have to continue the battle without its flagship, which could be difficult.

A “humiliating” loss

Experts agree that this is a major setback for the Russian forces, both for military and moral reasons.

Most do not doubt that will further complicate the Kremlin’s ambitions in Ukraine.

“The disappearance of the once mighty Moskva is seen as poetic justice in Ukraine,” explains Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent.

“This incident is likely to cause Russian warships to have to move further from the coast for your own safety“.

Russian soldiers in front of the Moskva.

Getty Images
The Moskva was a symbol of Russian supremacy in the Black Sea.

Jenny Hill, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, calls the sinking of the Moskva a “significant and humiliating” loss for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

blow to national pride

The Russian president has insisted on multiple occasions that his “special military operation” in Ukraine is proceeding successfully, “as planned.”

But Hill insists that the sinking of the Moskva now means “an blow to national pride” Russian.

“What was once a symbol of Russia’s power and ambition is now at the bottom of the sea,” adds the journalist.

In Russia, television morning bulletins were limited this Friday morning to briefly repeat the statement issued by the Ministry of Defense.

Some commentators argued that the fire suppression system aboard the forty-year-old warship was old and inefficient.

For Mykola Bielieskov, from the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Ukraine, the damage is “more psychological than material“.

The Moskva in Sevastopol.

Getty Images
The Moskva in Sevastopol.

“(The sinking of the ship) will not completely end Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine,” he told the BBC.

“But it is a powerful symbol that sophisticated weaponry can be used effectively.”

Russians now more vulnerable

Bielieskov, who advises the Ukrainian government on military strategy, also predicted that “Russian ships will now be forced to move further from the Ukrainian coast, where they can no longer feel safe“.

The Moskva did not fire missiles at Ukrainian ground targets, but military experts told the BBC the ship provided crucial support to other ships that did.

The remaining ships in the Russian Black Sea fleet will now be more vulnerable to air strikesthough it is unclear whether Ukraine’s forces, which have suffered multiple casualties, have the resources to take advantage of the situation.

“The Moskva was the only ship in the fleet to have long-range air defenses on board,” explains Sidharth Kaushal, a maritime energy expert at the Royal United Services Institute.

The Moskva cruiser.

Getty Images

“While smaller ships were carrying out bombing raids on Ukrainian cities, the Moskva was providing them with wide-area air cover.”

“Embarrassing”

The missile cruiser was previously deployed by Moscow to the Syria conflict, where it provided naval protection for Russian forces in the country.

It is the second large ship that Russia loses since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine.

Admiral Alan West, former chief of the UK Naval Staff, says that as well as being a military coup, the loss of the ship is “very shameful.”

“It has a big impact,” West said in an interview with BBC Radio 4 before Russia confirmed the Moskva had sunk.

Putin loves the navy. When he came to power, the navy was the first part of the exhausted Soviet forces that he put effort into. He has always had a soft spot for the navy.”

Moscow

Reuters

The warship was for many years a “symbol of Russian naval power in the Black Sea,” according to Michael Petersen of the Russian Institute for Maritime Studies.

“The Moskva has been a thorn in the side of the Ukrainians since the beginning of this conflict,” he told the BBC, before adding that seeing it destroyed would be “a real morale boost for the Ukrainians.”

Earlier in the conflict, the Moskva gained notoriety after his crew ordered the Ukrainian border troops defending Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender.

The guards refused, radioing a memorable rejection message that loosely translates to “go to hell.”

Originally built in the Soviet era, the Moskva entered service in the early 1980s and has since become the most feared vessel in the region.

Whether it was by fire, as Moscow claims, or by a Neptune missile, as kyiv alleges, the battle for control of Ukraine snatched that title from him.


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