One year ago today, Ukraine sunk the Russian flagship Moskva

14 April, 05:05 PM
The sunken cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea, April 2022 (Photo:Мike Right / Twitter)

The sunken cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea, April 2022 (Photo:Мike Right / Twitter)

Russia’s Moskva missile cruiser, the jewel of its Black Sea fleet, was sent to the bottom of the Black Sea one year ago today, on April 14, 2022, after being hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles the day before.

The sinking of the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea navy was named one of Ukraine’s 10 greatest victories in the first year of war by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.

Forbes called the event the most expensive one-time military loss to Russia in its war on Ukraine, estimating the ship’s worth at $750 million.

Video of day

NV recounts the event and its significance.

Why was the Moskva the symbol of the Russian Black Sea Fleet?

The Moskva was built right here in Ukraine, at a shipyard in Mykolaiv. Originally named Slava (Glory) when it was launched in 1979 and commissioned in 1982, the Moskva was 186.5 m long and could carry up to 16 cruise missiles. The ship took its more famous name after the Black Sea fleet’s previous flagship, the Moskva anti-ship cruiser-helicopter carrier, was decommissioned in November 1996.

Before sinking to the bottom of the Black Sea, the Moskva took part in the war in Syria where it covered the Russian Khmeimim air base with its air defense equipment. Taking off from the cruiser, Russian bombers destroyed cities throughout the Syrian province of Idlib. This “combat service” of the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet ended in January 2016.

The ship underwent a long-term repair from 2018 to 2020.

The cruiser had a displacement of 11,500 tons and could reach speeds of up to 32 knots, while its range was up to 8,000 miles. Serving as a naval military base, the ship was armed with:

  • an AK-130 artillery cannon
  • six AK-630 anti-aircraft guns
  • eight P-1000 Vulkan anti-ship cruise missile launchers
  • eight S-300F Fort anti-aircraft missile systems
  • two Osa-MA anti-aircraft missile systems
  • two 533 mm caliber torpedo tubes
  • a MR-800 Flag long-range radar survey system designed to detect surface and air targets
  • a Ka-27 helicopter based on the deck.

The ship became notorious in Ukraine after a famous incident at Snake Island.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Russian sailors demanded that Ukrainian defenders surrender, threatening to launch a “bomb attack” from the “Russian warship”.

The response from the Ukrainian border guards – “Russian warship, go f*** yourself” – has become one of the iconic phrases of the Ukrainian resistance.

How did the Ukrainian Army sink the Moskva cruiser?

The Ukrainian Army’s naval forces attacked the Moskva on April 13. The ship was hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles from the coastal anti-ship system of the same name (RK-360MC Neptune). The cruiser was suffered serious damage and sank the following day. Up to 500 people were on board, though Russia has not announced the exact number of casualties. Russia has only recognized 17 people as dead – claiming “munition detonation” and “fire” with subsequent flooding due to a “storm” as the reasoning.

The Ukrainian Neptune missile system, which sent the flagship of the Russian Black Sea fleet to its final resting place, is among Ukraine’s newest innovations. Designed by Kyiv’s Luch Design Bureau, it was first tested in 2018 before being put into service in 2020. The system includes four elements:  a USPU-360 mobile launcher, a TZM-360 transport and charging vehicle, a TM-360 transport vehicle, and a mobile command post.

The Neptune cruise missile (R-360) is the first Ukrainian missile that can be launched from different carriers: coastal, ship, or aircraft. The warhead weighs 150 kg and flies at extremely low altitudes (just meters above sea level). One missile weighs 870 kg and can be fired up to 280 kilometers.

U.S. intelligence helped track the location of the Moskva when it was attacked. Ukraine asked its American allies to confirm its own intel – that the ship was in a certain range of coordinates south of Odesa. The United States was unaware of Ukraine’s plans, learning about the Moskva strike from the news.

Why the sinking of the Moskva is so important?

The sinking of the Moskva was as much of a materiel loss for Russia as it was a symbolic victory for Ukraine. While Russia tries to downplay the incident, it was an extremely embarrassing event and has become one of the most symbolic moments of the war in Ukraine.

Russia had not lost a ship of its size and importance since 1941, when the Marat battleship was destroyed by German bombers. In fact, no country had lost a ship the size of the Moskva since 1982, when the British submarine HMS Conqueror sank Argentina’s General Belgrano cruiser during the Falklands War.

Beyond simply destroying that particular “Russian warship”, Ukrainian Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, emphasized the strategic importance of the successful operation of the Ukrainian Army’s naval forces.

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He cited several important consequences of the Moskva sinking:

  • Firstly, “the successful use of Ukrainian missiles at such a distance convinced partners that there is no point in delaying the transfer of Harpoon missiles.”
  • Secondly, “as soon as the Harpoon missiles were received, Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa’s command successfully used them,” pointing out that the sinking of the Moskva led to the Russian invaders fleeing from Snake Island; a move the Russians called a “goodwill gesture”, recalled Reznikov.
  • Thirdly, the liberation of Snake Island made it possible to launch the “grain corridor”. This opened the world again to Ukrainian products, while Ukraine received resources for defense. “If the Moskva had not been destroyed, it would have been impossible to achieve this result,” Reznikov stressed.
  • Finally, it was proven in combat that Ukrainian weapons can handle the most difficult tasks and defend Ukraine as well as the weapons of any of its partners.

The sinking of the Moskva was the last day the Russian fleet dominated the Black Sea, as afterward the fleet “was forced to hide south and east of Crimea”, said Reznikov.

“The Kremlin’s dreams of landing on Odesa are now forgotten. Now, the Russians can only cowardly shell civilians from the air,” he said.

“The main conclusion from this story is that this is our country and it’s up to us to decide how to defend it. Even if someone still cares about the ‘face of the Kremlin’.”

The destruction of the Moskva was “a stunning success, without exaggeration”, said the Main Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, adding that the success greatly helped the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine:

  • liberate Snake Island
  • force the Russia to unblock shipping trade routes
  • reduce the level of threats from the Black Sea
  • inflict a moral and psychological blow to the enemy
  • assure the Russians that Crimea’s liberation is inevitable.

Reznikov expressed confidence that following Ukraine’s victory, the sunken Moskva cruiser “will become a popular destination for divers.”

“Tourists from all over the world will raise glasses of fantastic Crimean wine in Ukrainian Crimea to a wonderful toast – ‘Bottoms up to the Russian military fleet!’” he said.

Ukraine has already granted the sunken cruiser the status of underwater cultural heritage object No. 2064.

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