WASHINGTON — The Moskva was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a symbol of the country’s dominance in the region and a powerful war machine that had been used to launch precision cruise missiles deep into Ukraine.
Despite Russia’s claims that a fire broke out on the ship accidentally, US officials confirmed Friday that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles had hit the ship, killing an unknown number of sailors and sending it and its arsenal to the bottom of the Black Sea. Sea were sent.
The sinking of the Moskva on Thursday was a severe blow to the Russian fleet and a dramatic demonstration of the current era of warfare in which missiles fired from the coast can destroy even the largest, most powerful ships. It was also the largest combat loss for a navy since 1982, when the Argentine Air Force sank a British guided missile destroyer and other ships during the Falklands War.
The Russian cruise missiles were brutally deployed on apartment buildings in Ukrainian cities, and the Moskva guns were fired at Ukraine’s Snake Island. The Kremlin’s most powerful missile platform is impossible to replace, and its sinking was a daring counter-attack, retired military officers said.
The Moskva awed those who saw it – strewn with missiles and looming over the landscape – and for decades was the epitome of Russian power in the region.
“It was a very impressive ship,” said retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, the director of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. ‘She looks really dangerous with those surface-to-surface missile launchers. But apparently she can’t take a beating.”
The sinking of the ship has symbolic, diplomatic and military significance.
Russian ships have already been pushed further off the Ukrainian coast, US officials confirmed, on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence’s assessments of the war. The rest of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is still within range to launch cruise missiles into Ukraine, but cannot support any form of amphibious assault on the country’s coastal cities, according to former officials.
Naval analysts have been concerned for years that a new generation of ship-killing missiles would endanger large and important ships, such as the Moskva or the United States’ fleet of aircraft carriers. The sinking of the Moskva is a clear sign that the future has arrived.
The Moskva was itself designed as a ship killer. Construction of the ship, originally known as the Slava, began in 1976 and entered service in 1983. It was built by the Soviet Union to sink American aircraft carriers and was armed with missiles that could hit planes, ships and submarines.
Improved many times over the years, the Moskva should have had defenses to shoot down the Ukrainian missiles. The ship was armed with a medium-range surface-to-air system thought to be effective within seven miles, and it also had other missiles designed to take out threats 80 miles away. In theory, his guns could also have shot down a Neptune missile. But none of those defenses worked.
“War is brutal,” said retired Admiral Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations. “You have to make the investments to beat the kind of weapons that people are going to throw at you.”
Anti-ship weapons are not difficult to build or use. Hezbollah attacked an Israeli warship in 2006 during the Lebanon war. Houthi rebels in Yemen fired multiple anti-ship missiles at a US Navy destroyer in 2016 in two separate attacks, which in response provoked Tomahawk cruise missile strikes in retaliation. While the US Navy has been investing in anti-missile technology for decades, US war planners have said the Chinese missiles would pose a real threat in a conflict.
While symbolically painful for Russia, the loss of the Moskva also has practical implications for the ongoing war. Missiles allegedly fired at Ukraine now lie at the bottom of the Black Sea, a blow to Russia’s war plans.
The Moskva would have played a key role in any possible amphibious assault on the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa. While other landing ships would have been used to bring Russian naval infantry to the coast, the Moskva is said to have protected those ships and launched rocket attacks on the city.
Now, Admiral Cox said, any amphibious assault on Ukraine will be much more dangerous for Russia, with its landing and amphibious ships much more vulnerable to attack.
The further Russian ships are from the coast, the more limited their support for ground attacks on Ukrainian cities will be. While the greater distance could make some attacks more difficult, it wouldn’t put Russia’s more powerful missiles out of range. Some of Russia’s sea-launched cruise missiles can reach 1,550 miles, while Ukraine’s Neptune missiles have a range of about 190 miles.
Before the attack on the Moskva, a senior defense ministry official said, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet operated with relative impunity.†
“They thought they could run around the Black Sea and go anywhere,” said retired Admiral James G. Foggo III, the dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy at the Navy League of the United States. “They have discovered otherwise.”
Preventing an attack on Odessa is a priority of the Ukrainian military, which has been asking the United States and its allies for additional anti-ship missiles and other so-called coastal defense weapons for weeks.
Senior Ukrainian officials have told the Pentagon they need the anti-ship missiles and other weapons to open a new front and reverse the Russian invasion, US officials said.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
The attack on the Moskva showed that Ukraine’s requests were “very far-sighted,” the senior defense ministry official said.
By building up coastal defenses, Admiral Foggo said, the Ukrainians will be able to attack the Russian fleet even without a powerful navy. Missiles, smart mines and other advanced devices will help keep Russian ships at bay.
“You don’t necessarily need a battleship to protect the coasts of Ukraine† he said. ‘It’s easier to shoot from the shore. It is easier to defend than to attack. So now the Russians have a problem†
The United States responded to Ukraine’s request by adding coastal defense weapons to a $800 million package announced this week. Senior Pentagon officials also asked US military contractors in a meeting on Wednesday to develop proposals for additional anti-ship missiles that the United States could supply to Ukraine or its allies.
Some US officials said they were puzzled as to why Russia kept claiming that the Moskva was destroyed by accident and not a Ukrainian attack. Russia remains eager to downplay Ukraine’s military successes to the Russian public. US intelligence has determined that senior Russian officials have failed to provide accurate accounts of the war in Ukraine to President Vladimir V. Putin, and former officials said Russian military officials most likely lied to the Kremlin about what happened to the Moskva.
“Losing the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is like losing a crown jewel: a serious prestige damage, which, I think, has affected Putin personally, given the great importance he attaches to rebuilding Russia as a great naval power.” , he said. Katarzyna Zysk, a professor at the Norwegian Institute of Defense Studies in Oslo.
The sinking of the Moskva, officials said, also demonstrated the strategic importance of expanding the battle from Ukrainian cities to the Black Sea, where the Russian fleet has long dominated. And it revealed, said Admiral Foggo, deep problems in the Russian army. Well-trained sailors should have been able to contain the flooding caused by the rocket attacks, put out the fire and save the ship, he said.
While few US analysts had predicted that the Ukrainians could have destroyed the Moskva, officials said no one should be surprised by Ukraine’s capabilities at this point in the war.
And the sinking of the ship is one of the most high-profile blows the Ukrainian military has ever dealt.
“It is striking to consider how damaging this will be to the morale of the Russian Navy, given its symbolic name, its role as a flagship and the fact that it is a combat casualty,” said retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, a former commander in chief. of the Allies in Europe. “In terms of the Russians losing such an important unit, yes, you have to go back to WWII.”
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and James Glanz From New York. Helene Cooper† Eric Schmitt and John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington.