Ukraine said its forces sank Russia’s Black Sea fleet’s flagship in a missile attack on Thursday, while Moscow stated the ship was only damaged and made no mention of an assault.
The loss of the ship would be a massive military and symbolic setback for Russia, which is reorganising its forces in preparation for a new onslaught in eastern Ukraine after retreating from much of the north, including the capital.
A fire aboard the Moskva, a warship with a crew of 500 men, prompted the whole crew to leave the ship, according to Russia. The fire had been extinguished, and the ship will be hauled to port with its guided missile launchers intact, the company stated later.
According to a military analyst, the ship carries 16 missiles, and its removal from combat would significantly limit Russia’s capabilities in the Black Sea.
Regardless of the severity of the damage, any attack would be a massive setback for Russian prestige just seven weeks into a conflict that is already largely regarded as a historic disaster.
Cloud cover made it impossible to find the ship or evaluate its health based on satellite photographs, and it took a long time to reconcile the disparate claims. The news of the ship’s damage came only hours after some of Ukraine’s friends attempted to gather new support for the country.
“The war for Europe’s future is happening here,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda stated during a meeting with leaders from three other EU countries on Russia’s doorstep who worry they could be next in Moscow’s sights.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden approved $800 million in extra military aid to Kyiv last week, after calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine “genocide.”
He claimed that Western armaments have supported Ukraine’s war so far, but that “we cannot rest now.”
Russian boasts of successes in the southern port city of Mariupol, where they have been battling the Ukrainians since the early days of the invasion in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war — at a horrendous cost to civilians — were overshadowed by news of the flagship’s damage.
Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, stated that 1,026 Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade men surrendered in a metals factory in the city on Wednesday.
The report was refuted by Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, who told Current Time TV that “the war for the seaport is still going on today.” It was unclear when or for how long a surrender might have taken place, or how many men were still defending Mariupol.
Russian state media aired footage from Mariupol that showed scores of men dressed in camouflage walking with their hands up and carrying others on stretchers. A white flag was held by one of the men.
The capture of Mariupol is crucial for Russia because it would give it control over a large swath of territory, allowing its forces in the south, who came up through the annexed Crimean Peninsula, to link up with troops in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland and the target of the upcoming offensive.
Since 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea, insurgents backed by Moscow have been fighting Ukraine in the Donbas. Russia has acknowledged the Donbas rebel territories’ independence.
However, the loss of the Moskva, which was named after Russia’s capital, could set back those attempts. On Sunday, satellite images from Planet Labs PBC show the Moskva steaming out of the Crimean Peninsula’s port of Sevastopol.
According to Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odesa region, which is located across the Black Sea to the northwest of Sevastopol, the Ukrainians fired two Neptune missiles at the ship, causing “severe damage.”
The ship sank, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, who called it a “colossal significance” event. The ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, which did not specify what caused the fire.
It was later reported that the ship was still afloat and will be brought in for repairs. It claimed that none of its “main missile weaponry” had been damaged. Ukraine has developed the Neptune anti-ship missile, which is based on an earlier Soviet design.
The launchers are positioned on trucks near the coast, and the missiles can attack targets up to 280 kilometres distant, according to the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. According to US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the US was unable to confirm Ukraine’s claims of attacking the warship.
“At this point, we don’t have the capacity to independently verify that,” he told the Washington Economic Club. Nonetheless, he described it as “a major setback for Russia.”
“They’ve had to choose between two stories: one is that it was just ineptitude, and the other is that they were attacked, and neither is really favourable to them,” Sullivan explained.
If confirmed, the ship’s destruction would limit the number of Russian cruise missiles in the Black Sea to 56, according to Oleg Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military specialist.
“The loss of 16 cruise missiles at once will push the Russians to maintain their strength and adapt their maritime tactics,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities announced on the Telegram messaging app that explosions had struck Odesa, Ukraine’s main port, hours after the ship’s damage was detected. They asked residents to keep calm and stated that civilians are not under risk.
According to Western sources, Russia invaded on Feb. 24 with the objective of quickly taking Kyiv, overthrowing the government, and installing a Moscow-friendly replacement.
However, the ground offensive stopped in the face of heavy Ukrainian opposition aided by Western weapons, and Russia may have lost hundreds of fighters. Untold thousands of Ukrainian people have died as a result of the conflict, and millions more have been forced to escape.
The war, according to a United Nations work team, threatens to damage the economies of many developing countries, which are already dealing with rising food and energy prices, as well as more tough financial conditions.
The battle, according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is “supercharging” a food, energy, and financial crises in impoverished countries already dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic, climate change, and a lack of funding.
The war has also thrown Europe’s post-Cold War balance off, notably in NATO’s eastern flank, where countries worry they will be attacked next. As a result, those countries have been among Ukraine’s most ardent backers.
Poland’s, Lithuania’s, Latvia’s, and Estonia’s presidents visited war-torn districts in Ukraine on Wednesday, demanding justice for what they called war crimes.
They met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and went to Borodyanka, one of the communities near Kyiv where evidence of atrocities was discovered after Russian troops retreated to concentrate on the east of the country.
“There’s no denying they committed war crimes. And they should be held accountable for it,” stated Latvian President Egils Levits.