Russia’s Black Sea flagship sinks while being towed into port; Ukraine claims credit

Kyiv, Ukraine – The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a guided-missile cruiser that became a potential target of the Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the war, sank on Thursday after being badly damaged in the latest setback to Moscow’s invasion.

Ukrainian officials said their forces hit the ship with rockets, while Russia confirmed fire aboard the Moscow River but no attack. US and other western officials could not confirm what caused the fire.

The loss of the warship named after the Russian capital is a devastating symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops Regroup for another offensive in eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from much of the north, including the capital.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the ship sank in a storm while being towed to a port. Russia earlier said the flames on the ship, which would normally have 500 sailors on board, forced the entire crew to evacuate. It was later said the fire had been contained and the ship was being towed to port with its rocket launchers intact.

The ship can carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its distance from combat reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. It’s also a blow to Russia’s prestige in a war already widely viewed as such a historical mistake. Russia’s invasion, now entering its eighth week, has stalled due to resistance from Ukrainian militants, backed by arms and other aid from Western nations.

News of the flagship’s damage overshadowed Russian claims of advances in the southern port city of Mariupol, where they have been fighting the Ukrainians in some of the heaviest fighting of the war since the early days of the invasion. at an exorbitant cost to the civilian population.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Wednesday that 1,026 Ukrainian troops surrendered at a metal factory in the city. But Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, dismissed the claim, telling Current Time TV that “the battle for the seaport is still ongoing today.”

It was unclear how many forces were still defending Mariupol.

Russian state television broadcast footage allegedly from Mariupol showing dozens of men in camouflage clothing walking with their hands raised and others carrying stretchers. A man held a white flag.

A bird's eye view of the large Moskva ship in port with two smaller ships a little further away.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the cruiser Moskva in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea on April 7, 2022.Satellite Image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP

The capture of Mariupol is crucial for Russia as it would allow its forces in the south, advancing via the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to fully align with troops in the eastern Donbass region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland and the objective of the coming offensive.

The Russian military continues to pool helicopters and other equipment for such efforts and is likely to add more ground combat units “in the coming days,” according to a senior US defense official. But it is still unclear when Russia could launch a major offensive in the Donbass.

Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine in Donbass since 2014, the same year Russia occupied Crimea. Russia recognized independence of the rebel regions in the Donbass.

The loss of the Moskva could delay any new, wide-ranging offensive.

Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odessa region, across the Black Sea northwest of Sevastopol, said the Ukrainians hit the ship with two Neptun missiles and caused “severe damage”.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, called it an event of “huge importance”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said ammunition on board exploded as a result of a fire, without saying what caused the fire. It said the “main missile weapons” were not damaged. In addition to the cruise missiles, the warship also had anti-aircraft missiles and other artillery.

The Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine, based on an earlier Soviet design. The launchers are mounted on trucks stationed near shore, and the missiles can hit targets up to 175 miles away, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. That would have put the Moscow River within range, depending on where the fire started.

The US could not confirm Ukraine’s claims of attacking the warship, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Thursday. Still, he called it “a major blow to Russia.”

“They had to choose between two stories: one story was that it was just incompetence and the other story was that they were attacked and neither is the best outcome for them,” Sullivan told the Washington Economic Club.

In the early days of the war, the Moskva was reportedly the warship that summoned Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender in a standoff. In a widely circulated recording, the soldier replies, “Russian warship, go (expletive) yourself.”

The AP has not been able to independently verify the incident, but Ukraine and its supporters regard it as an iconic moment of defiance. The country recently unveiled a postage stamp commemorating this.

Russia invaded on February 24, potentially losing thousands of fighters. The conflict has killed scores of Ukrainian civilians and forced millions more to flee.

There are also continued inflated prices at grocery stores and gas pumps because Ukraine and Russia are big producers of grain and energy while also weighing on the global economy. The head of the International Monetary Fund said Thursday that the war helped push the organization to downgrade economic forecasts for 143 countries.

Also on Thursday, Russian authorities accused Ukraine of sending two low-flying military helicopters across the border and firing on residential buildings in the village of Klimovo in Russia’s Bryansk region, about 7 miles from the border. According to the Russian investigative committee, seven people were injured, including a toddler.

Russia’s State Security Service had previously said Ukrainian forces fired mortar shells at a border post in Bryansk as refugees crossed, forcing them to flee.

The reports could not be independently verified. Earlier this month, Ukrainian security officials denied that Kyiv was behind an airstrike on an oil depot in the Russian city of Belgorod, some 35 miles from the border.

–The Associated Press

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