The sinking of one of Russia’s most fearsome warships, the Moskva, is a blow to the country – whether the ship sank after an accidental fire, as the Russian Ministry of Defense claims, or after having been hit by missiles, as claimed by Ukraine.
At more than 600 feet long and weighing 12,500 tons, according to Russian news agencies, the Moskva was one of the largest ships in the Russian Navy and the flagship of its fleet in the Black Sea.
This 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 Moskva was deployed to support Russian aircraft and troops in Syria in 2015, and in 2008 it patrolled the coast of Georgia during the Russo-Georgian War.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Moskva – armed with 16 Vulkan missile launchers with a strike range of more than 400 miles, according to Russian state media – and the rest of the Sea Fleet Noire have repeatedly launched missiles at Ukraine. The ships also cut off Ukraine’s access to the sea and the economic lifeline it provided.
Although military analysts said the loss of the Moskva was unlikely to change the tide of the war, it was an embarrassment for the Russian military, which has spent billions of dollars upgrading its weaponry.
The ship had the capability to do “significant damage” in the Black Sea, said Gary Roughead, a retired admiral and former chief of naval operations for the United States. He added that with the disappearance of the Moskva, Russia most likely lost a key communication and control platform.
The loss of the Moskva was 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 ship was also a symbol of national pride. Her name was “Glory” when she was commissioned for the Soviet Navy in the early 1980s. She was renamed in honor of the Russian capital in 1996, according to Russian state media.
“Imagine the aircraft carrier USS George Washington going to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean,” James Stavridis, a retired US Navy admiral and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said of the ship’s symbolism.
“It’s a blow to their prestige to lose something like this,” Admiral Roughead said, adding, “It calls the readiness of the fleet into question.”
The Moskva is the same ship, Ukrainian officials said, that was famously and obscenely reprimanded by Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island in February.
The Russian Defense Ministry said all of the Moskva’s crew – who usually number around 500 – had been evacuated. The ship will now join countless other ships, some more than a millennium old, on the Black Sea floor.
James Glanz contributed report.