Russian Flagship Sunk by Ukraine

Another morale booster for the good guys.

Reuters (“Russia says blast cripples Black Sea flagship, Ukraine claims missile strike“):

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet was seriously damaged and its crew evacuated on Thursday, following an explosion on board that Ukraine said was caused by a missile strike.

The loss of the Soviet-era missile cruiser Moskva would be a blow to Russia’s military – on the 50th day of the war – as it readies for a new assault in the eastern Donbas region that is likely to define the outcome of the conflict.

Russia’s defence ministry said a fire on the Moskva caused ammunition to blow up, Interfax news agency reported, without saying what had caused the blaze.

Maksym Marchenko, the Ukrainian governor of the region around the Black Sea port of Odesa, said the Moskva had been hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles.

“Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage,” he said in an online post.

Ukraine’s defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment and Reuters was unable to verify either side’s statements.

Russia’s navy has launched cruise missiles into Ukraine and its activities in the Black Sea are crucial to supporting land operations in the south of the country, where it is battling to seize full control of the port of Mariupol.

CNN (“Russian navy evacuates flagship in Black Sea. Ukraine claims it was hit by a missile“):

One of the Russian Navy’s most important warships is either floating abandoned or at the bottom of the Black Sea, a massive blow to a military struggling against Ukrainian resistance 50 days into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his neighbor.


Whatever the reason for the fire, the analysts say it strikes hard at the heart of the Russian navy as well as national pride, comparable to the US Navy losing a battleship during World War II or an aircraft carrier today.”Only the loss of a ballistic missile submarine or the Kutznetsov (Russia’s lone aircraft carrier) would inflict a more serious blow to Russian morale and the navy’s reputation with the Russian public,” said Carl Schuster, a retired US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King’s College in London, said losing the warship would be a “massive blow” for Russia.”Ships operate away from public attention and their activities are rarely the subject of news. But they are large floating pieces of national territory, and when you lose one, a flagship no less, the political and symbolic message — in addition to the military loss — stands out precisely because of it,” he said.The 611-foot-long (186 meters) Moskva, with a crew of almost 500, is the pride of the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea. Originally commissioned into the Soviet navy as the Slava in the 1980s, it was renamed Moskva in 1995 and after a refit reentered service in 1998, according to military site Moskva is armed with a range of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles as well as torpedoes and naval guns and close-in missile defense systems.All those represent massive amounts of explosive ordnance in its ammunition magazines. Any fire nearing them would have given the crew limited options to deal with the threat, Schuster said.


Odesa state regional administrator Maxim Marchenko claimed in a post on Telegram that Ukrainian forces had used Neptune cruises missiles to attack the Moskva. If that’s true, the Moskva would potentially be the largest warship ever taken out of action by a missile, Schuster said.Such an achievement would represent a big advance for Kyiv’s forces.The Neptune is a Ukrainian weapon, developed domestically based on the Soviet KH-35 cruise missile. It became operational in the Ukrainian forces just last year, according to Ukrainian media reports.

If it was used to attack the Moskva, it would be the first known use of the Neptune during the war, according to a post on the website of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) from Lt. Cmdr. Jason Lancaster, a US Navy surface warfare officer.His post for the CIMSEC on Tuesday said the threat posed by mobile shore-based cruise missiles like the Neptune “changes operational behavior” of an enemy.Russian “ships will operate in ways to minimize the risk of detection and maximize their chances to defend themselves,” Lancaster wrote. “These behavioral changes limit Russia’s ability to utilize their fleet to their advantage. The added stress of sudden combat increases fatigue and can lead to mistakes.”According to Patalano, the war professor: “It would appear the Russians have learned that the hard way today.”


The Moskva also poses symbolic significance to Ukraine as it was one of the ships involved in the famous exchange at Snake Island in February, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.According to a purported audio exchange in late February, as the Russians approached the Ukrainian garrison on Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, in the Black Sea, a Russian officer said: “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your weapons and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombed.”A Ukrainian soldier responded: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

If the Moskva is lost, it would be the second large-sized Russian naval vessel to suffer that fate during Moscow’s war with Ukraine.In late March, Ukraine said a missile strike had destroyed a Russian landing ship at the port of Berdiansk.

Poetic justice, indeed.

The Twitter reaction is intense.

The last two are connected. Marine Commandant David Berger has been under considerable criticism for going all-in on a force redesign based on returning the Corps to a maritime service explicitly aimed at countering Chinese offset capabilities by distributed operations.

My favorite, however, is this one:

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Science & Technology, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    This will upset the Russian Caucus in Congress and much of the GOP as well.
    Tucker will be apoplectic.

  2. JohnSF says:

    Latest reports I’m seeing indicates it’s still afloat, regrettably.

  3. CSK says:

    According to Reuters, Russia says it’s going to tow the Moskva back to port.

  4. JohnSF says:

    Yes, at least the bugger is out of action.
    And a serious explosion will take more that a buff out to sort.

  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    There is a lesson in this for navies, particularly the US Navy. Surface ships are expensive and have lots of crew, while they are increasingly vulnerable to cheap missiles. In particular are aircraft carriers that now need to be much closer to the operational targets due to continually shrinking distance attack aircraft can fly w/o refueling.

    Imagine the rending of garments in DC, when a multi billion dollar carrier with 5000 crew members is sunk and not by the Chinese or Russians, but the Iranians or North Koreans.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Well, theoretically our ships are better-defended against missile attack. It’s actually shocking that a slow, home-grown cruise missile could penetrate the Moskva’s defenses. But even if our ships are better defended it’s a cautionary tale when contemplating the Taiwan strait.

  7. Kathy says:

    The US Navy should have learned this 22 years ago when Al Qaida damaged the USS Cole.

  8. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    …a cautionary tale when contemplating the Taiwan strait

    Especially if you are commander in the People’s Liberation Army Navy 😉

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: a suicide attack while a ship is docked and refueling at port is not really relevant here one way or another.

  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    True, but sh!t happens and defenses don’t always work.

    The issue of carrier aircraft range is known and is not really being dealt with. It hasn’t been an issue in Iraq or Afghanistan because refueling tankers can safely get close to the front. That won’t be the case if the opponent has any type of air sophisticated defense system as those tankers are sitting ducks. It will be a problem, if carrier based aircraft are responsible for taking out those air defense systems.

  11. JohnSF says:

    Ships have always been in peril when in range of shore batteries, though.
    In April 1940 at the Battle of Drobak Sound the Norwegian Oscarborg fortress sunk the German cruiser Blucher with torpedos.

  12. charon says:

    It will be problematical for the Russian navy to operate within 280 km of the Ukraine coast.

    So no shelling of the shore, no amphibious assault on Odesa.

  13. Matt says:

    @Sleeping Dog: @Michael Reynolds: Yes the US ships are better defended by better tactics, better training and better systems. There are limits to those defenses though. Someone like Iran or China could launch a flood of hundreds of anti-ship missiles and a few would get through. Something that is often overlooked or forgotten especially among the ‘bomb bomb bomb Iran” types..

  14. Kathy says:
  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Apparently the Ukrainians flew a Bayrachter TB2 around in the area of the Moskva and distracted her defenses from the Neptune that came in at 10meters height. So… TWO slow, relatively amateur drones.

    Altho the Russians do not admit the missile strike, they’ve moved the remainder of their fleet further offshore.

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    That thing was 600+ feet long.
    I bet it’s been a long time since a ship that big has been lost in battle.
    We sunk a 300′ Iranian boat in 1988.
    Serious black eye for the Republicans…I mean…er…Putin.

  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    I read elsewhere that this is…

    “…the first Russian loss of a flagship since the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905.”

    Tucker and Vlad must be pissed.

  18. JohnSF says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Only comparable since WW2 was when HMS Conqueror took out the Belgrano during the Falklands War.
    Can’t think of anything else in that weight class, offhand.

  19. Kathy says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    At least Mad Vlad is mindful of tradition.

    Back then, the Japanese were depicted as incredibly dangerous, yet also as easily defeated by force of arms in a jiffy. The Czar got an impressive black eye, thousands of death soldiers and sailors, and a revolution to boot.

  20. CSK says:

    Yes. Multiple sources, including the AP and CNN, are reporting that the Russian Defense Ministry says the ship has sunk.

    This is a huge win for Ukraine.

  21. JohnSF says:

    A joy deferred is a joy improved
    Currently sipping wine and sniggering at twitter trollskis and Tuckertrons.
    “See, Moskva is unharmed and Russia is invincible! What? Oh. Ah. But Putin remains a master of strategy!”
    Cope harder, bros.

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    I love that the Russians would prefer to claim abject incompetence rather than admit it was the Ukes.

  23. CSK says:

    On top of everything else, the Moskva was the ship involved in the “go fuck yourself” Incident.

  24. JohnMcC says:

    @CSK: That’s pretty amazing if it turns out to be so. That class of cruiser (there were three delivered back in the ’80s) displaces approx 12,000 tons. Info I’ve read indicates that the Neptune missile is only a killing machine for vessels of 5,000 tons. Specifically, frigates were mentioned.

    Knowing nothing more, would imply very poor damage control.

  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Well, theoretically our ships are better-defended against missile attack.

    Do you have a source for that claim? It doesn’t match what I’m hearing from the community.

  26. JohnSF says:

    I don’t know about USN ships, but the RN Type 45 destroyer is reputed to be able to handle simultaneous tracking of thousands of potential targets moving at supersonic velocities, either sea-skimming or ballistic.
    And to hit them.

    Plus automated CIWS rotary cannon as a final defence.

    They are in a different league to the Moskva, quite frankly.
    (When their engines bloody work, but that’s a whole other sorry saga, LOL/sigh)

  27. Matt says:

    @JohnMcC: Poor training on a ship that has weapon systems crammed into every corner. So basically lots of stuff that could explode when hit..

    Got in a discussion in what feels like ages ago with a fellow who was insistent that Russian ships were the bees knees because they had more pew pew. My response was to point out the long lance torpedoes used by the Japanese in WW2. Many a Japanese ship exploded from relatively minor hits because of that weapon system…

    @JohnSF: In ideal conditions. Reality rarely aligns with “on paper” or “in ideal conditions”. So who knows.