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 in Ukraine.
Despite Russian claims that an accidental fire broke out on the ship, US officials confirmed on 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 sea. Black.
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 shore can destroy even the largest and most powerful ships. It was also the most significant combat loss for any navy since 1982, when the Argentine Air Force sank a British guided-missile destroyer and other ships during the Falklands War.
The Russian warship, the Moskva, was hit by missiles
about 65 nautical miles south of Odessa,
according to a defense official.
A ship of similar dimensions.
and features was seen on
75 nautical miles from Odessa.
seen on the high seas
near the port
seen in port
Russia’s warship, the Moskva, was attacked
by missiles on 65 nautical miles
south of Odessa, according to a defense official.
seen on the high seas
near the port
A ship with similar
characteristics were seen
about 75 nautical
miles from Odessa.
seen in port
Russian cruise missiles have been used to brutal effect on apartment buildings in Ukrainian cities, and Moskva guns had fired on Ukraine’s Snake Island. The Kremlin’s most powerful missile platform is impossible to replace, and its sinking was a bold counterattack, retired military officials have said.
The Moskva inspired awe in those who saw it, bristling with missiles and looming over the landscape, and was the embodiment of Russian power in the region for decades.
“It was a very impressive ship,” said retired Rear Adm. Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. “With those ground-to-ground missile launchers, she really looks dangerous. But apparently, she can’t take a hit.”
The sinking of the ship has a symbolic, diplomatic and military importance.
Russian ships have already been pushed further from the Ukrainian coast, confirmed US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments of the war. The rest of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is still within range to launch cruise missiles at Ukraine, but cannot support any kind 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 could endanger large, important ships like the Moskva or the US aircraft carrier fleet. The sinking of the Moskva is a clear sign that the future has arrived.
The Moskva itself was designed as a ship killer. Construction of the ship, originally known as the Slava, began in 1976 and it entered service in 1983. Built by the Soviet Union to sink US aircraft carriers, she was armed with missiles capable of attacking aircraft, ships and submarines.
Improved many times over the years, the Moskva should have had defenses to shoot down Ukrainian missiles. The ship was armed with a medium-range surface-to-air system that was thought to be effective within seven miles, and also had other missiles designed to eliminate threats 50 miles away. In theory, her weapons could also have brought down a Neptune missile. But none of those defenses worked.
“War is a brutal thing,” said retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations. “You have to make the investments to defeat the kind of weapons that people are going to throw at you.”
Anti-ship weapons are not difficult to build or deploy. Hezbollah struck an Israeli warship in the 2006 Lebanon war. Houthi rebels in Yemen fired multiple anti-ship missiles at a US Navy destroyer in two separate attacks in 2016, prompting retaliatory strikes with Tomahawk cruise missiles in response. While the US Navy has invested in anti-missile technology for decades, US war planners have said China’s missiles would pose a real threat in a conflict.
While symbolically painful for Russia, the loss of Moskva also has practical effects on the ongoing war. Missiles that would have been fired at Ukraine are now at the bottom of the Black Sea, a blow to Russia’s war plans.
The Moskva would have played a major 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 shore, the Moskva would have protected those ships and launched missile attacks on the city.
Now, Admiral Cox said, any amphibious assault on Ukraine will be much more dangerous for Russia, with its landings and amphibious ships much more vulnerable to attack.
The further the Russian ships are from the coast, the more limited their support for ground assaults on Ukrainian cities. While the greater distance might make some attacks more difficult, it would not put Russia’s most powerful missiles out of reach. 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 Moskva attack, a senior Defense Department official said, the Russian Black Sea fleet operated with relative impunity..
“They thought they could run around the Black Sea and go wherever they wanted,” said retired Adm. James G. Foggo III, dean of the United States Naval League’s Center for Maritime Strategy. “They discovered the opposite.”
Preventing an attack on Odessa has been a priority for Ukraine’s military, which for weeks has been asking the United States and its allies for additional anti-ship missiles and other coastal defense weapons.
Senior Ukrainian officials have told the Pentagon they need anti-ship missiles and other weapons to open a new front and push back the Russian invasion, US officials said.
The attack on Moskva showed that Ukraine’s requests were “very prescient,” the senior Defense Department official said.
By building coastal defenses, Admiral Foggo said, the Ukrainians will be able to take on the Russian fleet even without a powerful navy. Missiles, smart mines and other advanced devices will help them keep Russian ships at bay.
“You don’t necessarily need to have a battleship to go out and protect the Ukrainian coasts,” 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 an $800 million package announced this week. Senior Pentagon officials also asked US military contractors at a meeting on Wednesday to develop proposals for additional anti-ship missiles that the United States could provide to Ukraine or its allies.
Some US officials said they were puzzled why Russia had continued to claim the Moskva was destroyed in an accident and not by a Ukrainian attack. Russia remains eager to play down Ukraine’s military successes to the Russian public. US intelligence agencies have assessed that senior Russian officials have not given President Vladimir V. Putin accurate accounts of the Ukraine war, and former officials have said the Russian military likely lied to the Kremlin about what they told him. succeeded Moskva.
“Losing the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is like losing a crown jewel: a serious damage to prestige that, I think, has probably affected Putin personally given the importance he has attached to rebuilding Russia as a great naval power,” he said. Katarzyna Zysk, a professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo.
The sinking of the Moskva, the officials said, also demonstrated the strategic importance for Ukraine of expanding the battle from the country’s cities to the Black Sea, where the Russian fleet has long dominated. And it revealed, Admiral Foggo said, deep problems in the Russian military. Well-trained sailors should have been able to contain the flooding caused by the missile attacks, put out the fire and save the ship, he said.
While few US analysts would have predicted that the Ukrainians could have destroyed Moskva, officials said that at this point in the war, no one should be surprised by Ukraine’s capabilities.
And the sinking of the ship is one of the most notable blows that the Ukrainian army has received.
“It is amazing to think how detrimental this will be to the morale of the Russian Navy, given the symbolic name, its role as a flagship and the fact that it is a combat casualty,” said retired Rear Admiral James G. Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe. “In terms of the Russians losing such an important unit, yes, you have to go back to World War II.”
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and james shine from New York. helena cooper, Eric Schmitt Y John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington.