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Russia’s flagship warship sinks after hit by explosion

Russian cruiser Moskva. (Russian Ministry of Defense/Released)
April 14, 2022

The Russian warship Moskva, which was heavily damaged in an explosion on Wednesday, has sunk.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has now confirmed that the warship Moskva, a Slava-class guided-missile cruiser, has sunk. In a statement reported by the Russian state-run TASS news agency, the Russian Defense Ministry said, “During the towing of the Moskva cruiser to the designation port, the ship lost stability due to hull damage, sustained during the detonation of ammunition because of a fire.”

“Amid the heavy storm, the ship sank,” the Russian military added.

The Russian military statement is significant as Russia has been reticent to provide regular assessments of its losses in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. On March 25, the Russian military said around 1,351 of its troops had been killed in over a month of fighting, the BBC reported. In an interview with Sky News last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said Russian forces had suffered “significant losses of troops” in the fighting so far but did not give a precise casualty assessment.

The Russian military emphasized to TASS that the crew was able to evacuate before the ship sunk.

The Mosvka (which means Moscow) had served as the flagship missile cruiser for Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Some early reports had indicated warship Moskva may have been the same Russian warship involved in the infamous Snake Island standoff in late February. During the standoff Ukrainian defenders on the island refused a Russian warship’s call to surrender and instead told the warship crew “Go fuck yourself.” However, the standoff was soon attributed to the Russian warship Vasily Bykov, which was destroyed by a Ukrainian attack in early March.

During an official background briefing on Thursday, a U.S. defense official assessed that the Moskva was still afloat but heavily damaged.

“Our assessment is that [the crew] still appears to be battling a fire on board,” the defense official said. “But we do not know the extent of the damage. We don’t know anything about casualties to [the] crew. And we cannot definitively say at this point what caused that damage.”

The exact cause of the damage to the Moskva is not clear. The DoD noted some claims the Russian warship was struck by a missile, but the defense official said they could not rule out other causes.

“There’s lots of things on a surface combatant that are combustible … that can cause explosions and cause fires,” the official said, including artillery rounds, missiles, the ship’s propulsion plant and onboard fuel.

“Any sailor will tell you, especially a sailor who served on a surface combatant, on any given day that the risk of a fire and explosion is real. And that’s why [the Navy] takes damage control and fire prevention so seriously,” the official added. “On every U.S. Navy ship, we consider every sailor a firefighter for good reason.”