The Moskva, Russia’s most valuable ship, has been hit by missiles, US officials say

WASHINGTON — The Moscow River was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a symbol of the country’s dominance in the region and a powerful war machine, firing precise cruise missiles deep into Ukraine.

Despite Russia’s claims that a fire accidentally broke out on the ship, US officials confirmed on Friday that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles hit the ship, killing an unknown number of sailors and sending it and its arsenal to the bottom of the Black Sea had.

The sinking of the Moscow River on Thursday was a major blow to the Russian fleet and a dramatic demonstration of the current era of warfare, in which land-launched missiles 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.

Russian cruise missiles had been used with brutal effect on apartment buildings in Ukrainian cities, and the Moskva’s guns had fired on Ukraine’s Snake Island. The Kremlin’s most powerful missile platform was impossible to replace and its demise was a brave counterattack, retired military officers said.

The Moskva River inspired awe in those who beheld it – crammed with rockets and towering over the landscape – and for decades was the embodiment of Russian power in the region.

“It was a very impressive ship,” said retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. “She looks really dangerous with those surface-to-surface missile launchers. But she can’t seem to take a hit.”

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, speaking 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 into Ukraine, but cannot support an amphibious assault on the country’s coastal cities, according to former officials.

Naval analysts have feared for years that a new generation of ship-destroying missiles could endanger large and important ships like the Moscow River or the United States’ aircraft carrier fleet. 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 the ship entered service in 1983. Built by the Soviet Union to sink American carriers, it was armed with missiles capable of hitting aircraft, ships, and submarines.

The Moskva has been upgraded many times over the years and should have had defenses to shoot down the Ukrainian missiles. The ship was armed with a medium-range surface-to-air system believed to be effective within seven miles, and also had other missiles designed to take out threats at a range of 50 miles. In theory, its cannons could have fired a Neptune rocket as well. But none of these defenses worked.

“Warfare is a brutal thing,” said retired Admiral Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations. “You have to make the investments to defeat the kind of guns people are going to throw at you.”

Anti-ship weapons are not difficult to build or use. Hezbollah attacked 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 retaliation in response to Tomahawk cruise missile attacks. While the US Navy has invested in missile defense technology for decades, American war planners have said China’s missiles would pose a real threat in a conflict.

While the loss of the Moscow River is symbolically painful for Russia, it also has practical implications for 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 Moscow River 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 ashore, the Moskva would have protected those ships and launched missile attacks on the city.

Well, Admiral Cox said, any amphibious assault on Ukraine would be much more dangerous for Russia, since its landing and amphibious ships were much more vulnerable to attack.

The further Russian ships are from shore, the more limited their support for ground attacks on Ukrainian cities will be. While the longer distance might 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 a range of 1,550 miles, while Ukraine’s Neptun missiles have a range of around 190 miles.

Prior to the attack on the Moscow River, a senior Defense Ministry official said the Russian Black Sea Fleet was operating with relative impunity.

“They thought they could circumnavigate the Black Sea and go anywhere they wanted,” said the retired Adm. James G. Foggo III, the Dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy of the United States Navy League. “They found out something else.”

Preventing an attack on Odessa is a priority for Ukraine’s 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 repel the Russian invasion, US officials said.

The Moskva River attack showed that Ukraine’s demands are “very prescient,” the senior Defense Ministry official said.

By building up coastal defenses, Admiral Foggo said, the Ukrainians could attack the Russian fleet even without a powerful navy. Missiles, smart mines and other advanced devices will help them keep Russian ships away.

“You don’t necessarily need a battleship to go out and protect the shores of Ukrainehe said. “It’s easier to shoot from the shore. It’s easier to defend than attack. 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 American military companies to develop proposals for additional anti-ship missiles that the United States could supply to Ukraine or its allies at a meeting on Wednesday.

Some American officials said they were puzzled as to why Russia continued to claim the Moskva River was destroyed by an accident and not a Ukrainian strike. Russia continues to seek to downplay Ukraine’s military achievements to the Russian public. US intelligence services have found that senior Russian officials have not given President Vladimir V Putin accurate reports on the war in Ukraine, and former officials said Russian military officials most likely lied to the Kremlin about what happened to the Moskva River.

“Losing the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is like losing a crown jewel: a serious loss of prestige that I think has probably hit Putin personally, given the importance he attaches to rebuilding Russia as a great naval power,” he told Katarzyna Zysk , Professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo.

The sinking of the Moskva River, officials said, also demonstrates the strategic importance for Ukraine to extend the fight 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 stem the flooding caused by the missile attacks, put out the fire and save the ship, he said.

While few American analysts would have predicted that the Ukrainians could have destroyed the Moscow River, 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 spectacular strikes ever landed by the Ukrainian military.

“It’s startling to think 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’s a casualty of war,” said retired Admiral James G. Stavridis . a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. “In relation to the loss of such a significant unit by the Russians, you must go back to WWII.”

Julian E Barnes reported from Washington, and Jacob Shine from New York. Helen Cooper, Eric Schmitt and John Ismay contributed reporting from Washington. The Moskva, Russia’s most valuable ship, has been hit by missiles, US officials say

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