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Ukraine claims sinking ‘pride of Russian navy’

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MOSCOW: Russia said on Friday the Moskva missile cruiser, the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, had sunk while being towed to port following a fire and explosions the previous day involving ammunition stowed onboard.

But Ukraine said the Moskva’s fate was sealed by a missile strike launched by its forces from the coast which ripped open the hulking Soviet-era ship’s hull.

Moscow has powerful air defence systems deployed in Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, but the Moskva was able to provide long-range and mobile air defence protection for the entire Black Sea Fleet and was a floating command and control centre. Its loss potentially leaves the fleet more exposed, particularly on longer range missions west of Crimea.

The ship had a crew of around 500 sailors who Russia said were successfully evacuated to other ships before being returned to their home port of Sevastopol in Crimea on Friday. Ukraine has suggested there are likely to have been fatalities, but Russia has not said anything on the subject yet.

According to Britain’s defence ministry, the loss is unlikely to affect Russia’s fortunes in the war, but it will certainly prompt Moscow to review its naval posture in the Black Sea. While a huge blow to Russian military morale, the Russian navy has so far not played a big role in what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Russia retains naval dominance in the immediate region and the Moskva was primarily equipped to destroy enemy vessels at sea but little is left of Ukraine’s navy.

It’s not clear whether it was earmarked for a role in the conflict, but some analysts say it may have helped support a possible Russian amphibious landing in the Ukrainian port of Odessa that has not happened yet because of resistance from Ukrainian forces.

Its sinking may be seen in some quarters in Ukraine as reducing the chances of such an assault and allow Ukraine to redeploy some of its forces elsewhere.

Can Russia easily replace Moskva?

No. Russia has two other ships of the same class, the Marshal Ustinov and the Varyag, which serve with its Northern and Pacific fleets respectively. Turkey, which controls access to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus, will not let them enter at a time of war.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2022

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