Logan Spurrier ‘22
On April 14th, 2022, the flagship of the Russian Black Seas Fleet, Moskva, was confirmed sunk by the Russian Ministry of Defense (M.O.D). The cause for the sinking was claimed to have resulted from an ammunition detonation caused by a fire onboard, which was denied by the Ukrainians who claimed they had sunk the ship with two anti-ship missiles. U.S officials, alongside photos of the aftermath of the event, confirmed that the Moskva had sunk due to a Ukrainian strike.
Moskva, translated as “Moscow,” was a Slava-class guided missile cruiser (CG) built for the Soviet Navy in 1983. As a CG, her primary task was to provide an advanced suite of weapons to any surface combat group she was apart of. Bristling with 16x P.1000 Vulcan anti-ship missiles, 64x S-300F Fort anti-air missiles, and 24x RBU-6000 anti-submarine mortars, Moskva was equipped to handle threats from every modern threat vector (air, sea, and underwater). She was also equipped with a wide array of sensors, from long-range air search radar to hull-mounted sonar designed to hunt N.A.T.O submarines. It is these capabilities that have caused much debate over how the sinking occurred.
During the night of April 13th, 2022, Ukrainian sources began reporting that they had struck the cruiser Moskva with two Ukrainian-produced R-360 Neptun anti-ship missiles. As April 14th dawned, however, the Russian M.O.D stated that the ship has experienced an ammunition explosion due to a fire. They went on to claim the same day that the ship was in the process of being towed back to port (Sevastopol), with some further claiming it had already been seen in port. Yet, satellite imagery and reports from Western (namely U.S) officials began to paint a different story.
Satellite imagery showed Moskva was on fire and that rescue attempts had failed, leaving her in the approximate area where the Ukrainians claimed to have hit her. With pressuring and evidence mounting, the Russians changed their story. They stuck with, as they still do as of writing this, the idea that it was an ammunition explosion, but admitted that the ship had capsized and sank. Meanwhile, Ukraine held firm on the claim that the sinking was not a result of an ammunition explosion, but a strike by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.
Photos emerged on April 17th, 2022, showing the ship during the efforts by Russian vessels in the area to evacuate the crewmembers from the burning, capsizing wreck. These photos appear to confirm the Ukrainian claim, with at least one visible hole on the Moskva that is indicative of a missile strike. The pattern of damage, as well of the location of such, also further add credibility to the missile strike claim. This is still officially disputed by the Russians, however.
Much debate has been ongoing surrounding the situation. It is yet unclear as to how exactly, if the Ukrainian claim is to be believed, they accomplished such as a strike against the Moskva. Officially, the Ukrainians claim they used a Bayraktar TB2 UAV to “bait” the ships’ defenses into hyper-focusing on the supposed threat posed by the drone. It is then that the Ukrainians claim a salvo of two R-360 anti-ship missiles were launched, of which both are claimed to have hit. There is no clear evidence of this theory.
However, it is known that the ship was sailing through an intense storm in the Black Sea, which would have posed a challenge to the surveillance equipment and operators who were on watch. The Moskva was also the oldest ship of her class and was due for a refit and repair. It is speculated that this, alongside the weather, may have factored against her overall capabilities on the night of the sinking.
Despite the major morale boost given to the Ukrainians in the wake of the sinking, the strategic picture for the Russo-Ukrainian War has not changed much. Russian naval forces have largely been uninvolved in the conflict thus far, in which most of the fighting is conducted on land. This is, however, a larger blow for the Russian Navy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Navy has struggled to maintain its forces due to budgetary cuts or restrictions. Although she was not the most capable ship of the entire Russian Navy, Moskva is an asset they will struggle to replace for years, if not decades.