The sinking of one of Russia’s most formidable warships, the Moskva, is a stunning blow for the country – whether the ship sank after an accidental fire, as Russia’s Defense Ministry maintains, or after being struck by missiles, as Ukraine has claimed.
More than 600 feet long and weighing 12,500 tons, according to Russian news agencies, the Moscow was one of the Russian Navy’s largest vessels and the flagship of its fleet in the Black Sea.
That body of water, whose coastline is shared with several other countries, including Ukraine, Georgia and Turkey, has been of strategic importance to Russia for centuries.
The Moscow was deployed to support Russian aircraft and troops in Syria in 2015, and in 2008, it patrolled the coast of Georgia during the Russian-Georgian war.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Moscow – armed with 16 volcano missile launchers with a strike range of more than 400 miles, according to Russian state media – and the rest of the Black Sea fleet have launched missiles into Ukraine several times. The ships also cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea and the economic lifeline it provided.
Although military analysts said the loss of Moscow was not likely to alter the course of the war, it was an embarrassment for Russia’s military, which has spent billions of dollars to modernize its weaponry.
The ship had the ability to do “significant damage” in the Black Sea, said Gary Roughead, a retired admiral and the former chief of naval operations for the United States. He added that with the Moscow’s demise, Russia has most likely lost a key communications and controls platform.
The loss of the Moscow has been estimated by Forbes Ukraine to have cost Russia $ 750 million and to be Russia’s most expensive military loss in the war to date.
The vessel was also a symbol of national pride. Its name was “Glory” when it was first put into service for the Soviet Navy in the early 1980s. It was renamed after the Russian capital in 1996, according to Russian state media.
“Picture the aircraft carrier USS George Washington going to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean,” James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and a former supreme allied commander at NATO, said of the ship’s symbolism.
“It’s a significant hit to their prestige to lose something like that,” said Admiral Roughead, adding, “It calls into question the readiness of the fleet.”
The Moskva is the same ship, Ukrainian officials have said, that was famously and obscenely told off by Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island in February.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has said that all crew members on the Moskva – which usually number around 500 – had been evacuated. The ship will now join an unknowable number of other vessels, some more than a millennium old, on the floor of the Black Sea.
James Glanz contributed reporting.