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The Russian fleet evacuated the flagship “Moscow” in the Black Sea. Ukraine claims it was hit by a missile

Russian sailors have evacuated the missile cruiser Moscow, the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, after a fire that blew up ammunition on board, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Ukraine’s South Operational Command said on Thursday that Moscow had begun to sink after being hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.

“In the Black Sea Operational Zone, anti-ship cruise missiles” Neptune “hit the cruiser” Moscow “, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – it received significant damage,” the statement said. “A fire broke out. Other parts of the ship’s group tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that “Moscow” “remains on the surface” and that measures are being taken to withdraw it to the port. The ministry said the crew had been evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet ships in the area.

Due to major storms over the Black Sea, obscuring satellite imagery and satellite data, CNN was unable to visually confirm that the ship was hit or its current condition, but analysts noted that a fire aboard such a ship could lead to an explosion crash. which can sink him.

Whatever the cause of the fire, analysts say it has hit the heart of the Russian navy hard, as well as national pride, comparable to the loss of the U.S. Navy during World War II or an aircraft carrier today.

“Only the loss of a ballistic missile submarine or Kutnetsov (the Russian aircraft carrier itself) will deal a greater blow to Russia’s morale and naval reputation among Russian audiences,” said Carl Schuster, a retired U.S. Navy captain and former director. of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center of the US Pacific Command.

Alessio Patalano, a professor of war and strategy at King’s College London, said the loss of the warship would be a “massive blow” to Russia.

“Ships operate far from the public eye and their activities are rarely the subject of news. But they are large floating pieces of national territory, and when you lose one, no less a flagship, the political and symbolic message – in addition to the military loss – stands out because of that, “he said.

611 feet (186 meters) long Moscow with almost 500 crew members is the pride of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Originally introduced into the Soviet Navy as “Glory” in the 1980s, it was renamed “Moscow” in 1995 and re-commissioned in 1998, according to the military website Naval-Technology. com.

Moscow is armed with a range of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as torpedoes and naval cannons and short-range missile defense systems.

They all represent huge amounts of explosives in his ammunition stores. Any fire approaching them would give the crew limited opportunities to deal with the threat, Schuster said.

“When a fire reaches your ammunition cartridges, you have two choices: 1) flood them or 2) leave the ship,” Schuster said. “Otherwise, your crew is on board to be destroyed by the catastrophic explosion that followed the fire, which reached several hundred tons of ammunition.”

Odessa regional administrator Maxim Marchenko said in a Telegram publication that Ukrainian forces had used Neptune cruise missiles to attack Moscow. If true, Moscow would potentially be the largest warship ever launched by a missile, Schuster said.

Such an achievement would be a major step forward for Kyiv’s forces.

Neptune is a Ukrainian weapon developed in the country on the basis of the Soviet KH-35 cruise missile. According to reports in the Ukrainian media, he began working in the Ukrainian forces only last year.

If it had been used to attack Moscow, it would have been the first known use of Neptune during the war, according to a lieutenant commander’s publication on the website of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Jason Lancaster, a U.S. Navy officer.

His post to CIMSEC on Tuesday said the threat of shore-based mobile cruise missiles, such as Neptune, “changes the enemy’s operational behavior”.

“Russian ships will act in ways to minimize the risk of detection and maximize their chances of defending themselves,” Lancaster wrote. “These behavioral changes limit Russia’s ability to use its navy to its advantage. The added stress of a sudden battle increases fatigue and can lead to mistakes.”

According to Patalano, the military professor: “It seems that the Russians have learned this the hard way today.”

In a CIMSEC publication, Lancaster notes that the British Royal Navy lost several ships from missiles fired from Argentina during the 1982 Falklands War.

During this war, a British submarine sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, a former World War II US Navy ship similar in size to the Moscow.

Moscow is also symbolic of Ukraine, as it was one of the ships involved in the famous Snake Island exchange in February, according to Alexei Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

According to an alleged audio exchange in late February, as the Russians approached the Ukrainian garrison on Snake Island, also known as Snake Island in the Black Sea, a Russian officer said: “This is a warship. This is a Russian warship. I suggest you lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary casualties. Otherwise you will be bombed. “

Ukrainian soldier replied: “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

If “Moscow” is lost, it will be the second major Russian naval ship to achieve this fate during Moscow’s war with Ukraine.

In late March, Ukraine said a missile strike had destroyed a Russian landing ship in the port of Berdyansk.

Nathan Hodge and Olga Voitovich contributed to this report from Lviv, Ukraine.