WASHINGTON – Moscow was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a symbol of the region’s sovereignty and a powerful war machine used to launch precision cruise missiles deep inside Ukraine.
Russia has claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. officials confirmed Friday that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles had struck the ship, killing an unknown number of sailors and sending it and its weapons down the Black Sea.
The sinking of Moscow on Thursday was a serious blow to the Russian fleet and a dramatic demonstration of the current era of war in which missiles fired from shores can destroy even the largest, most powerful ships. It was also the most significant combat loss for any Navy since 1982, when the Argentine Air Force sank British-guided missile destroyers and other ships during the Falklands War.
Russian cruise missiles have been used to wreak havoc on apartment buildings in Ukrainian cities, and Moscow’s guns have fired on Ukraine’s Snake Island. It is impossible to replace the Kremlin’s most powerful missile platform, and its sinking was a bold counterattack, retired military officials said.
Moskva astonished those who saw it – filled with missiles and hovering over the landscape – and for decades was the embodiment of Russian power in the region.
“It was a very impressive ship,” said retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of Washington’s Naval History and Heritage Command. “With those surface-to-surface missile launchers, she looks really dangerous. But frankly, she can’t punch.”
The sinking of the ship has symbolic, diplomatic and military significance.
Russian ships have already been pushed off the Ukrainian coast, US officials have confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the war’s intelligence assessments. The rest of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is still within range of launching cruise missiles into Ukraine, but former officials say they are unable to support any kind of amphibian attack on the country’s coastal cities.
Naval analysts have been worried for years A new generation of anti-ship missiles It could endanger large and important ships, such as a fleet of aircraft carriers from Moscow or the United States. The sinking of Moskva is a clear sign that the future has come.
Moskva itself was designed as a ship killer. Construction of the ship, originally known as Slava, began in 1976 and went into service in 1983. Built by the Soviet Union to sink American carriers, it was equipped with missiles capable of striking aircraft, ships and submarines.
Upgraded several times over the years, Moscow must have the immunity to drop Ukrainian missiles. The ship was armed with a medium-range surface-to-air system that was considered effective within seven miles, and other missiles were also designed to eliminate hazards up to 50 miles away. In theory, its guns could also shoot down Neptune missiles. But none of those defenses worked.
“War is a cruel thing,” said retired Adam. Said Gary Rughead, former chief of naval operations. “You have to invest in losing the kind of weapons that people throw at you.”
It is not difficult to build anti-ship weapons or territory. In 2006, Hezbollah attacked an Israeli warship during the Lebanon war. Yemen’s Huthi rebels fired several anti-ship missiles at the U.S. Navy destroyer in two separate attacks in 2016, in response to Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. While the US Navy has been investing in anti-missile technology for decades, US war planners have said that China’s missiles pose a real threat to the conflict.
Although symbolically painful for Russia, the loss of Moscow has had a practical effect on the ongoing war. The missiles fired at Ukraine are now at the bottom of the Black Sea, hitting Russia’s war plans.
Moscow would have played a key role in any possible amphibian attack in the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa. While other landing ships were used to bring Russian naval infantry to shore, Moscow protected those ships and launched missile attacks on the city.
Now, Admiral Cox said, any amphibious attack in Ukraine would be very dangerous for Russia, its landings and amphibious ships are too vulnerable to attack.
The farther Russian ships are from the coast, the more limited their support for ground attacks on Ukrainian cities. Although large distances can make some attacks more difficult, it does not keep Russia’s more powerful missiles out of range. Russia’s cruise missiles launched from some seas can reach 1,550 miles, while Ukraine’s Neptune missiles have a range of about 190 miles.
Before the strike in Moskva, a senior defense official said, the Russian Black Sea Fleet operated with relative impunity.
“They thought they could run around the Black Sea and go wherever they wanted,” said Adam James G. Foggo III, dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy at the United States Navy League. “They found out otherwise.”
Preventing attacks on Odessa has been a priority for Ukraine’s military, which has for weeks been urging the United States and its allies to provide additional anti-ship missiles and other so-called coastal defense weapons.
Senior Ukrainian officials have told the Pentagon that anti-ship missiles and other weapons are needed to open a new front and repel Russian attacks, US officials said.
Russia-Ukraine War: Major Developments
The strike in Moscow has made Ukraine’s request “very popular,” said a senior defense official.
By building coastal defenses, Admiral Foggo said, the Ukrainians would be able to engage Russian ships even without a powerful navy. Missiles, smart mines and other advanced equipment will help keep them away from Russian ships.
“You don’t have to have a warship to go out and protect the shores of Ukraine.” He said. “It’s easier to fire from the shore. It’s easier to defend than to attack. So now the Russians are in trouble.. “
The United States responded to Ukraine’s request by adding coastal defense weapons to the $ 800 million package announced this week. Senior Pentagon officials on Wednesday urged U.S. military contractors to develop proposals for additional anti-ship missiles that the United States could provide to Ukraine or its allies.
Some U.S. officials have said they are confused about why Russia claims that Moscow was destroyed in an accident, not a Ukrainian invasion. Russia is eager to share Ukraine’s military success with the Russian people. U.S. intelligence agencies have speculated that senior Russian officials may have targeted President Vladimir V. Putin has not been given accurate details of the war in Ukraine, and former officials have said that Russian military officials may have lied to the Kremlin about what happened to Moscow.
“Losing the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is like losing the crown jewel: a serious loss of reputation, which I believe Putin personally attaches great importance to rebuilding Russia as a naval superpower,” he said. Professor Katarzyna Jisk of the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo.
The sinking of Moscow also demonstrated the strategic importance of extending the war from Ukrainian cities to the Black Sea, where Russia’s fleet has long dominated, officials said. And it turned out, Admiral Foggo said, that there were deep problems in the Russian army. Well-trained sailors should have been able to control the floodwaters, extinguish fires and rescue ships from missile strikes, he said.
While some U.S. analysts had predicted that the Ukrainians could destroy Moscow, officials said that at this point in the war, no one should be surprised by Ukraine’s capabilities.
And the sinking is one of the highest-profile strikes ever made by the Ukrainian army.
“It’s interesting to think about how much it hurts the morale of the Russian navy, given the symbolic name, its key role and the fact that it’s a war accident,” said retired Adam James G. Stavridis, a former supreme auxiliary commander in Europe. “In terms of the Russians losing such an important unit, yes, you should go back to World War II.”
Julian E. Barnes Reported from Washington, and James Glanz From New York. Helen Cooper, Eric Schmidt And John Isme Reporting contributions from Washington.