This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
It has been more than 50 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Vladimir Putin believed he would get Kiev to surrender within five days. It is clear that things did not go quite as he had hoped. Russia has faced a series of military setbacks in recent weeks. The biggest was the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, the Moskva, which now lies at the bottom of the sea last week. The 600-foot, 12,500-ton ship is certainly not small. Ukraine says it destroyed the ship with its state-of-the-art Neptune missiles. However, Russia claims that the ship crashed due to a fire on board, with ammunition stored in the hull. Anyway, the sinking of the Moskva is an important event. Equipped with surface-to-air missiles, the ship provided long-range mobile air defense for the entire Russian fleet in the Black Sea.
This includes Russian cruisers, frigates, rocket corvettes and amphibious landing ships capable of carrying thousands of troops. This entire fleet is now more vulnerable to attack without the Moskva’s protective cover and firepower. There were about 500 Russian sailors on board the Moskva, and most of them were said to have been evacuated safely by the Russians. Neither Russia nor the Americans have said anything about the number of possible casualties on board, or if there are any. If the Ukrainians were indeed successful in attacking the ship with their missiles, it would be a huge blow to Russia. At least symbolically, if nothing else.
The sinking is an embarrassment to the powerful Russians, especially at a time when the morale of its troops is reportedly low, and Ukraine has scored a major propaganda point. Ukraine’s defense ministry, meanwhile, has claimed it killed about 20,000 Russian soldiers and officers of the Russian army. A claim that has not been independently verified. A Kremlin spokesman has acknowledged that Russia has suffered what he called “significant troop losses” in Ukraine, but has not claimed a specific number of casualties. The sinking of the mighty Moskva also breaks the myth of the invincibility of the Russian army. At the same time, it has awakened the spirit of the Ukrainians who are fighting a battle between David and Goliath. But experts are divided on whether this would have a major military impact. So far, the Russian Navy has not really been deployed in the war, although there has been speculation that the Moskva would be used in an attack on Ukraine’s Odessa region. Otherwise, Russia has mainly used its land-based aircraft and systems for attacks.
The Pentagon says Moscow’s naval component in the war has been largely limited to two efforts: replenishing and resupplying troop efforts in the south and several cruise missile strikes on Ukraine. But the Black Sea domination is actually very important to Russia and this is the key. It is a stepping stone, in other words the Black Sea, to the Mediterranean Sea for Russia. It is also a strategic buffer between NATO and Russia. Since 2014, since the annexation of Crimea, Russia has been striving for full control of the Black Sea. That’s why they pushed to capture the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in the breakaway eastern region of Donetsk Oblast. Mariupol is about to fall to Russia. And that would be an important step forward for the Russians. Military experts say the capture of Mariupol will give Russia control of more than 80% of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline and cut off its maritime trade. And if the Odessa region fell as well, Ukraine would lose access to the entire Black Sea coastline and would be reduced to a landlocked country. That would be disastrous for the economy.
The loss of the Moskva ship may also prompt Russians to actually ramp up their attacks on Ukraine, as recent days have shown. However, it is also clear that Russia has scaled back and changed its target post in the country. When they first invaded Ukraine in February, it was from three different directions – there was the north, the east, and the south. But as the war progressed, Putin realized he had to cut his losses and since then his top officials have said the goal is to focus on liberating the eastern region of Donbass, where Russia-backed separatists have fought in the past against the Ukrainian army for about eight years. However, the West is also concerned that a desperate Putin could use nuclear weapons. The CIA director recently said that “none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a possible recourse to tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons.” Tactical and low-yield nuclear weapons refer to nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use, of which some experts estimate that Russia has about 2,000 that can be supplied by air, sea and ground forces. Ukraine has been helped by the West in terms of its military.
The US also announced an additional $800 million in military aid last week. But President Zelensky says he needs much more to fend off an aggressive Russian attack in the east. CNN reports that the latest aid includes 18 155mm Howitzer guns and 40,000 artillery shells, but fears will all end within days as fierce fighting intensifies in the Donbass region. Russia has also warned the State Department that there would be what it called “unpredictable consequences” if the US and its allies continued to send heavier weapons that Ukraine has been looking for. It is for this reason that the US must assess how far it can go in helping Ukraine militarily without escalating the conflict and making it worse.