Explainer: What is the significance of the sinking of the Moskva? | News about the war between Russia and Ukraine

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The Moskva, the warship named in honor of the Russian capital and pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has sunk after a fire aboard.

The Soviet-era ship saw service during conflicts in Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine, and assisted in scientific research during peacetime with the United States.

It was an inglorious sinking for a ship originally christened Slava or Glory.

What happened?

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Moskva was badly damaged by fire and sank in a storm while being towed into port.

Previously it was said that “a detonation of ammunition” started a fire and forced the crew to evacuate.

A Ukrainian official claimed he hit the Moscow River with a Neptun cruise missile after successfully redirecting the ship’s radar systems.

The US says it has confirmed Ukraine’s claims.

The ship, which normally had about 500 sailors on board, was somewhere in the Black Sea off the Ukrainian port city of Odessa at the time of the fire.

What is the meaning of the downfall?

Armed with multiple anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles, the 12,500-ton Moskva was the only ship of its class in the Black Sea. The other two missile cruisers — the Marshal Ustinov and the Varyag — serve with Russia’s Northern and Pacific Fleets, respectively.

A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Moskva River April 7 in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea [Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP Photo]

The Institute for the Study of War (IOW) says it cannot confirm that Ukraine sunk the warship, but says the loss of the Moskva — whatever the cause — is a “major propaganda victory for Ukraine.” By contrast, it would likely undermine Russian morale, the institute said.

In military terms, however, the loss is unlikely to be that significant.

According to the IOW, the Moskva was probably mainly used for Kalibr cruise missile attacks on locations such as logistics centers and airfields in Ukraine.

“These attacks were effective but limited in numbers compared to airstrikes and ground-launched missiles throughout the invasion, and the loss of the Moscow River is unlikely to be a decisive blow,” IOW said.

Russian military experts have also downplayed the military significance of the sinking.

“The ship is really very old. In fact, there have been plans to scrap it for five years,” Russian military analyst Alexander Khramchikhin told Reuters.

“It has more status value than true combat value and generally had nothing to do with the current operation. It will not affect the course of hostilities.”

What is the history of the Moscow River?

The Moskva was among a group of ships designed by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s to counter US aircraft carrier groups and provide air defense to Soviet ships operating in distant oceans.

Back then, they were nicknamed “Carrier Killers”.

According to open-source intelligence agency Janes, the warship was launched as the Slava from a shipyard in Mykolayiv, Ukraine – then part of the Soviet Union – in July 1979. It entered service in late December 1982, was 186 meters (610 ft) long and was designed for a crew of 476 men with an additional 62 officers.

The Slava was the flagship of the Soviet Black Sea fleet and was armed with deck guns, torpedoes and mortars, and nuclear weapons during the Cold War. It also had a helideck.

Silvio Berlusconi walks with Vladimir Putin alongside an honor guard of sailors on the Moskva River in Sardinia in 2003
Russian President Vladimir Putin received world leaders aboard the Moscow River, including then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during Putin’s visit to Sardinia in 2003 [File: Itar-Tass/Presidential Press Service via Reuters]

It was repaired in the 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s economy struggled and Ukraine became an independent, sovereign nation.

President Vladimir Putin, renamed Moskva, who came to power in 1999, received world leaders on board, including then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who visited Sardinia in 2003.

In 2008, during Russia’s war in Georgia – also once part of the Soviet Union – the Moscow River was involved in operations in the Black Sea. The Georgian government said the ship also took part in an attack on the country.

In March 2014, the Moskva briefly participated in a Ukrainian naval blockade as part of the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The following year it provided air defense for Russian forces operating in Syria.

Moskva sailors were decorated for their service there and in the war against Georgia.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the ship took part in an attack on Zmiinyi – or Snake Island. In an audio widely circulated online, a Ukrainian soldier replies, “Russian warship, fuck yourself.”

The incident has become a rallying point for Ukraine, and the country has just issued postage stamps commemorating the encounter.

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