The Russian missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, sank while being towed into port amid stormy sea conditions, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday. According to the Russian military, the warship’s hull had been damaged by an ammunition explosion, itself caused by a fire on board, on Wednesday.
Ukrainian officials claimed their forces had struck the vessel with anti-ship missiles. The Pentagon said it could not confirm the claim. A US drone circled above the cruiser on Thursday, monitoring its progress towards Sevastopol.
“While being towed to the port destination, due to hull damage caused by ammunition detonation sparked by fire, the cruiser Moskva lost stability. In the stormy sea conditions, the ship sank,” the Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday evening.
The Moskva was reportedly around 90 kilometers south of Odessa on Wednesday when a fire broke out on board. This caused the unspecified ammunition stores to explode, damaging the hull, according to the Russian military. The crew was evacuated by nearby Black Sea Fleet ships, and tugs were dispatched to tow the Moskva to Crimea for repairs.
As of Thursday morning, Moscow was saying that explosions on board had stopped and the fire had been extinguished, and that the cruiser was on its way to port for repairs. It was not mentioned again during the regular briefing on military operations in Ukraine later in the day.
Last month, Ukraine claimed to have sunk the Russian patrol vessel Vasily Bykov. However, it showed up in Sevastopol unharmed a few days later. Commissioned in 1983 under the name Slava (Glory), the cruiser was equipped with 16 anti-ship missiles, heavy air defenses, as well as torpedoes and heavy guns.
Russia attacked the neighboring state in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.