Get all your news in one place
100’s of premium titles. One news app. Zero ads. Just $10 per month.

Russian warship Moskva on fire but afloat, Pentagon says

The Moskva at sea
The apparent attack on the Moskva represents a devastating symbolic blow to the Kremlin. Photograph: Reuters

Russia’s flagship cruiser Moskva is on fire but still afloat and moving across the Black Sea, the Pentagon has confirmed, although US defence officials said it was unclear what caused a blast onboard the ship.

The Ukrainian southern military command claimed late on Wednesday to have struck the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship missiles, causing it to start sinking and forcing the crew to abandon ship.

Russia’s defence ministry said it was investigating what had happened, but denied reports that it had sunk and claimed the fires had been extinguished. Four Russian ships that had gone to the Moskva’s rescue were being hampered by stormy weather and by ammunition blowing up onboard, it said.

The incident is being closely watched by Nato aircraft over the Black Sea. The Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told CNN: “We’re not quite exactly sure what happened here. We do assess that there was an explosion, at least one explosion, on this cruiser – a fairly major one at that – that has caused extensive damage to the ship.”

He said the damaged Russian warship was making its way across the Black Sea, although a senior defence official later said it was unclear whether it was moving under its own power or being towed. Russian state media said the 510-strong crew had been evacuated and the ship was being towed.

While the US is unable to confirm whether the initial explosion, when the Moskva was 60 nautical miles due south of Odesa, was caused by a missile, the defence official noted that other Russian vessels in the vicinity had since moved at least 20 miles further away from Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

Moscow had initially said a fire onboard had caused the explosion, but a western official was sceptical about that explanation.

“I am not aware previously of a fire onboard a capital warship which had led to the ammunition magazine exploding as a consequence,” the official said, calling it “remarkably inept” if true.

The apparent attack – 50 days after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine – represented a symbolic blow to the Kremlin. The Moskva was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet and the most prestigious vessel involved in the war against Ukraine.

Ukraine is reported to have a limited supply of Neptune missiles and has appealed for western supplies of anti-ship weapons. The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, promised on a recent visit to Kyiv that British missiles would be made available, but they have not yet arrived.

A senior defence official in Washington said Ukrainian soldiers had been trained in the US to use not only Switchblade aerial drones, which have now been sent to Ukraine, but water-borne unmanned surface vehicles (USVs).

A satellite image shows a view of the Moskva north-west of Sevastopol, Crimea, on 10 April.
A satellite image shows a view of the Moskva north-west of Sevastopol, Crimea, on 10 April. Photograph: Maxar Technologies/Reuters

The Moskva gained notoriety early in the war when the crew demanded the surrender of Ukrainian forces on Snake Island, prompting a riposte from border guards on the island: “Fuck you, Russian warship.”

The phrase instantly became a symbol of national defiance, and is now a universal meme. It has appeared on a new national postage stamp as well as on checkpoints, shop windows, Ukrainian military vehicles and private cars.

On Wednesday Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, shared a photo of himself smiling and holding the new anti-Moskva stamp.

Ukraine’s new postage stamps depicting a Ukrainian service member giving the middle finger to the Moskva warship.
Ukraine’s new postage stamps depicting a defiant gesture towards the Moskva warship. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Commissioned in 1983, the ship was armed with 16 anti-ship Vulkan cruise missiles with a range of at least 440 miles (700km). According to reports, it was also carrying S-300 anti-air missiles, which are crucial to Russia’s air superiority over Crimea and Ukraine’s Kherson province, now occupied by Russian troops.

It is the most significant naval vessel to suffer major damage in combat since the Argentinian cruiserGeneral Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine in 1982.

The Russian state news agency Tass quoted the defence ministry as saying: “The source of fire on the cruiser Moskva is localised. There is no open fire. Explosions of ammunition have been stopped.”

Maksym Marchenko, the Ukrainian governor of the region around Odesa, said the Moskva had been hit by two Ukrainian-made anti-ship cruise missiles. “Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage,” he said.

“It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island.”

Oleksiy Arestovych, a Ukrainian presidential adviser, said: “It’s burning strongly, right now. And with this stormy sea, it is unknown whether they will be able to receive help.”

Oleksandr Turchynov, a former secretary of the national security and defence council, said Ukraine hit another Russian ship two weeks ago with a Neptune cruise missile. He said the missile inflicted “significant damage” on the Admiral Essen, “removing it from combat operation”.

The reported Moskva attack came hours after Ukraine’s allies sought to rally new support for the embattled country.

A satellite image shows the missile cruiser Moskva in port Sevastopol in Crimea on 7 April.
A satellite image shows the missile cruiser Moskva in port Sevastopol in Crimea on 7 April. Photograph: AP

On a visit with leaders from three other countries on Russia’s doorstep that fear they could next be in Moscow’s sights, the Lithuanian president, Gitanas Nausėda, said: “The fight for Europe’s future is happening here.”

The Russian navy has launched cruise missiles into Ukraine and its activities in the Black Sea are crucial to supporting land operations in the south of the country, where it is battling to seize full control of the port of Mariupol.

Russian forces have pulled back from some northern parts of Ukraine after suffering heavy losses and failing to take the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine and its western allies say Moscow is redeploying for a new offensive in the east.

The Moskva had been leading a substantial Russian naval presence in the Black Sea, threatening Ukraine’s southern coast and its key ports. This has been one of the main focuses of the Kremlin’s military efforts, and is aimed at cutting off Ukraine’s access to sea and creating a land bridge from the Crimean peninsular to the Russian border.

The news of the flagship’s damage overshadowed Russian claims of advances in Mariupol, where they have been battling the Ukrainian army since the early days of the invasion in some of the heaviest fighting of the war – at a horrific cost to civilians.

Igor Konashenkov, the chief spokesperson of the Russian defence ministry, said on Wednesday that 1,026 troops from the Ukrainian 36th marine brigade had surrendered at a metals factory in the city.

But Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, rejected the claim, telling Current Time TV: “The battle over the seaport is still ongoing today.”

Russia and Ukraine swapped prisoners on Thursday for the fourth time. Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said that 17 soldiers, five officers, and eight civilians were released from Russian captivity. She didn’t disclose the number of prisoners of war returned to Russia.

Related Stories
Ukrainian Missile Strike Sank Russian Warship Moskva, Pentagon Official Says
Russia claimed the ship was damaged by a fire aboard, which caused ammunition to explode.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Moskva: What happened to the Russian warship that was involved in Snake Island attack
Moskva is the ship Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island told to “go f**k yourself” soon after Russia invaded
Russian warship Moskva has 'sunk' off Ukraine: Here's what we know
Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet, has sunk during the country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, with…
Russian Warship Mystery: Fire Onboard Moskva Reportedly Out—But Cause Still A Mystery
The Ukrainian military says the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet started to sink after two Ukrainian cruise missiles allegedly…
Pentagon says Russian warship Moskva was sunk by two Ukrainian Neptune missiles
Loss of ship is major blow to Russian prestige seven weeks into war that already is widely seen as historic…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Captain of sunken Russian warship Moskva ‘killed in explosion’, says Ukraine
First Rank Captain Anton Kuprin, 44, died during an ‘explosion and fire on board’ the vessel