The loss of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship will make it more difficult to gain full control over Ukraine’s southern coast and ultimately move on the port city of Odesa, military analysts say, although it is unlikely to derail Moscow’s war campaign entirely.
The main role of the ship, the Moskva, had been to launch precision cruise missile strikes at Ukrainian logistics centers and airfields, according to an analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington. A fire onboard the vessel on Thursday led the Russians to pull back several other warships from the Ukrainian coast.
“The loss of the Moskva will reduce Russia’s ability to conduct cruise missile strikes, but is unlikely to deal a decisive blow to Russian operations on the whole,” the institute wrote in their daily report.
The Ukrainians claimed that the vessel had sunk after being struck by an anti-ship missile, something that Moscow denied and Western intelligence could not confirm.
The Russian Defense Ministry maintained that the ship had “lost its stability due to damage to the hull from the detonation of ammunition” from a fire. “In stormy sea conditions, the ship sank,” the ministry said.
A senior U.S. Defense Department official said the fire on the ship had broken out when it was positioned about 70 miles due south of Odesa. After the episode, about a half-dozen Russian ships in the Black Sea moved farther away from the Ukrainian coast, lending credence to Ukraine’s claim that it had hit the ship with a missile.