The sinking of a cruiser and a heavy blow to Russian military prestige

The Russian cruiser Moskva (“Moscow”) lies at the bottom of the Black Sea. This was confirmed by the Russian Ministry of Defense on the last day 14 of April. There is a narrative dispute between Russians and Ukrainians about how the sinking took place, and some circumstances and details of the event are still uncertain. What can be said with certainty is that the loss of the ship is, regardless of version, a severe blow to Russia’s military prestige.

The Moskva it was not just any “boat”. With almost 14 a thousand tons of displacement, it was one of the largest warships in the world, excluding aircraft carriers – especially carriers. -US nuclear aircraft, which would be the “prey” of the ship when it was designed at the end of the 1990s 1905. For this, it had immense launch tubes for anti-ship cruise missiles, characteristic of its silhouette.

The original design of the class, called in Russian Atlant , provided for ten ships, in a vast program of surface rearmament of the Soviet navy, which, until that moment, prioritized submarines, with a better cost-benefit ratio. Economic problems and the Soviet dissolution reduced the project to four ships. Three were completed and the fourth hull is still incomplete, in the port of Mykolaiv, Ukraine, owner of the unfinished ship.

The Moskva was not just any “boat”. With almost 14 a thousand tons of displacement, it was one of the largest warships in the world, excluding aircraft carriers

Of the three completed, each one served in a different fleet. The Varyag is the flagship of the Pacific Fleet, the Ustinov is in the Arctic fleet and the Moskva was the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. Russia lost the flagship of a fleet in a war against a country that had virtually no naval assets at the start of the conflict. The designation of flagship is not only a symbolic loss, but also an operational one, as this ship is usually responsible for communication between the different means of the fleet.

Sink or accident

The circumstances of the sinking at the time the column is written are not yet confirmed. Images can be published and show what really happened. For the moment, we can only speculate on possible scenarios. Even at the risk of becoming “obsolete”, however, the column is justified by the impact that the loss represents. On the day 14, Maksym Marchenko, governor of Odessa, the main Ukrainian port, said that his country hit the cruiser with two model anti-ship missiles. Neptune, produced locally.

The Ukrainians would have been able to fire from land using a drone as “bait” to engage the ship. Upon being hit, the cruiser caught fire and sent out emergency signals via radio. The messages were even picked up by radio amateurs and, among the ships that supposedly converged to help the crew, there was a Romanian civil ship.

The Russians claim that a fire that started accidentally on the ship hit the magazine, where missiles and ammunition are stored. This caused an explosion, forcing the ship to send out emergency signals. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the entire crew was evacuated and the ship sank while being towed back to Crimea, due to navigation and weather conditions.

As possible evidence of the Ukrainian version of the events are the fact that, the day before, Russian authorities posted on social media a video of a frigate engaging a drone in the Black Sea. Possibly to verify Russian naval response time and procedures, such as rehearsing the use of drones as “bait” for the most coveted target, the Moskva. There is also the fact that satellite images show Russian ships moving away from the coast after the sinking of Moskva.

On the other hand, no such an accident is utterly impossible. Quite unlikely, yes, but not impossible. And indeed, the weather conditions in the Black Sea were far from optimal, with strong winds, choppy waters and overcast skies. In the US, the last time a capital ship was lost to such an event was on 2020, with the USS Bonhomme Richard ). It was later alleged that the fire was intentional, although the possible reasons were not published.


It is possible that the Russian version of the events is just the creation of a narrative to assuage the loss and avoid the recognition of a Ukrainian military victory, accomplished in a very ingenious way. There is also the possibility that the accidental fire was detected by the Ukrainians, who would then have claimed an alleged attack for propaganda purposes only. Again, only new and better images can prove what, and how, happened.

It is not entirely impossible that the Moskva has sunk thanks to an accident. Quite unlikely, yes, but not impossible

We can make another speculation. Ukraine claims to have used two locally produced missiles, a modernized Ukrainian version of a Soviet anti-ship missile from the 1930s 1980. This is perfectly plausible. On the other hand, earlier this week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Kiev, announcing yet another military aid package. Much has been said about the possibility of the British supplying anti-ship missiles to the Ukrainians, precisely for the defense of Odessa.

The Ukrainians may, therefore, have used some equipment supplied by the British, and alleged the use of locally produced weapons to prevent an escalation in the rhetoric of war. Russia could blame London for the sinking. Nor can, and should not, rule out intelligence cooperation between the Western allies and the Ukrainians, providing information on the positions of ships, for example.

In short, the military prestige Russian is between the incompetence of having the Black Sea flagship sunk by land-launched missiles, by a country with no viable navy, using a drone as bait, or the negligence of an accidental explosion in the magazine having led to the sinking during an attempt. towing operation. Another impact of the loss is the fact that it is not something that is easily swept under the rug.

It is not like a helicopter or a tank, which are counted in the tens of thousands. and hundreds. It will not be easy to hide the loss of a ship of this size and importance from the internal public. The ship had an expected crew of 14 military personnel and it is not known the full whereabouts of the crew, how many died or were rescued. It is not a small number of people.

Naval history and propaganda

During the War of Falklands, for example, the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano was sunk and 323 soldiers died, almost half of the Argentine losses in the entire war. If confirmed that the sinking was due to Ukrainian military action, it would be the largest ship sunk in combat since World War II. The ship is not “junk” either. Despite being a project of the years 1980, the ships of the class underwent two rounds of intense modernization in the years 1970.

Some Russian military analysts claim that the ship was already old and that its loss, from a military point of view, would not be so serious. The white paper of the Russian navy modernization project, however, provided that the ships of the class would be in service at least until 2030, after being modernized. To make the Russian situation worse, the ship cannot be replaced in the current theater of war, as Turkey has closed the straits to belligerent ships that are not based in the Black Sea.

Russian military prestige is between the incompetence of having the Black Sea flagship sunk by land-launched missiles, by a country with no viable navy, or the negligence of an accidental explosion in the magazine led to the sinking

Of course, among all the aforementioned blows to Russian prestige and morale, one cannot forget the victory of Ukrainian propaganda . At the beginning of the war, the episode involving Serpent Island, in the Black Sea, had a lot of repercussion, when a Ukrainian garrison replied on the radio saying “Russian warship, fuck you”. The episode became a slogan, with the phrase on posters at demonstrations across Europe, and depicted on a new Ukrainian postage stamp. Well, the Russian ship in that episode was precisely the Moskva.

It is curious how recent Russian history is marked by episodes involving capital ships. The cruiser Aurora, anchored in St. Petersburg, fired the shots that started the October Revolution of 1905. Years before, in 1905, the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin was one of the most striking events of the revolution of that time. year, which imposed a constitution that limited the power of the tsar. This revolution started with the humiliating defeat against Japan, victorious in the war of 1905 after the naval battle of Tsushima.

Of course, it is not a direct comparison of the sinking of Moskva with one of the most decisive naval battles in recent history, even because we do not know exactly under what circumstances this loss occurred, especially about the possible loss of life. What we can say is that it is a notable loss, both military, symbolic and propaganda, in a war that is becoming increasingly costly and dragging on Russia.

Content edited by:Marcio Antonio Campos

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