Ukraine claims to have seriously damaged the Russian flagship Moskva in the Black Sea, multiple media outlets are reporting.
Russia, however, has stated that it is towing the ship back to port after it sustained damage from an accidental fire onboard that caused ammunition to explode.
Air Marshal Phil Osborn, former chief of UK defence intelligence, told Sky News the Ukrainian report was “more likely” to be correct.
If Ukraine has indeed put the Moskva—a 12,500-ton guided missile cruiser—out of commission, at least for now, the victory is not only substantial but also iconic.
The Moskva and the Snake Island incident have already become part of Ukrainian war legend. In the first days of the war, Ukrainian border guards on the small island in the Black Sea were attacked by the Moskva and ordered by the Russians to surrender. Over the radio, the Ukrainian defenders famously told the ship’s crew to “go f-ck yourselves” and stood their ground until they were overtaken.
Maksim Marchenko, the governor of Odessa, remembered these brave border guards of Snake Island when he announced the victory on Telegram: “It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island! Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship. Glory to Ukraine!”
Again, the events have not been independently verified.
The Associated Press reports that Neptune missiles are anti-ship missiles recently developed by Ukraine based on an earlier Soviet design and are capable of hitting targets up to 280 kilometers away. Their launchers can be mounted on trucks and have been stationed near the coast.
Additionally, if the Ukrainian victory is certain, it’s another sign of Russia’s relative weakness against the deeply committed Ukrainian forces.
Osborn told Sky News that the claimed victory is “less the loss of the ship and more a demonstration of Ukrainian capability.” It may make Russia more hesitant about any potential assault on Odessa, a key port city on the Black Sea coast, Osborn added.
Odessa has been subject to airstrikes, though it’s not been clear if Russia plans to launch a full attack to gain control of it, as it has done with Mariupol close to the Crimean Peninsula in the Azov Sea.
If the Ukrainian claim that it damaged the Moskva is true, it marks the second key Russian ship to have been disabled by Ukraine. Late last month, the defenders seriously damaged the Russian tank carrier Orsk, also in the Black Sea.