Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday the sinking of its guided-missile cruiser Moskva, a day after Ukrainian forces claimed they had hit the vessel with Neptune anti-ship missiles.
Military analysts say that the Moskva loss will make a huge dent to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, something on the same scale as the U.S. Navy losing a battleship during World War II, or an aircraft carrier today.
According to Russian state media, the Moskva sank while it was being towed to port, it lost its stability due to the damage caused by the detonation of ammunition. There is no way to confirm whose version is true - whether the ship was lost to enemy missiles or exploding ammunition.
It was not without reason that naval experts called Moskva a significant addition to Russia's naval force and the pride of the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea. The Slava-class vessel was said to have enough firepower to take on the U.S. and NATO aircraft carriers by overpowering them with a barrage of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as torpedoes and naval guns, and it was equipped with close-in missile defense systems to increase its survival chances. Carl Schuster, the former head of operations at the Joint Intelligence Center, told CNN that only the loss of a ballistic missile submarine or the Kutznetsov Russia's lone aircraft carrier would cause a more serious blow to Russian morale and the navy's reputation with the Russian public.
The Russian navy relies on its missile cruisers as a cost-effective way to level the playing field with the U.S. Navy, without having to build out costly aircraft carrier groups and fielding them. Each missile cruiser was a countervailing force for an aircraft carrier that could be fielded by the U.S. Navy or NATO. Russia has many similar, or better capable, ships, but its Black Sea fleet has been weakened by this loss.
The Russian war effort is affected in other ways by the sinking of Moskva. According to Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow at The Royal United Services Institute, the Moskva was the only vessel in the Russian fleet equipped with S-300 F missiles for wide-area air defense. It has provided air cover to other vessels during their operations, which have included coastal bombardments and amphibious feints. In the absence of the Moskva, the fleet lacks vessels with a comparable air defense suite, and will find it riskier to conduct similar operations, he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Alessio Patalano, professor of war and strategy at King's College in London, said losing the warship would be a huge blow for Russia.
Ships operate away from public attention and their activities are rarely the subject of news. But they are large floating pieces of the national territory, and when you lose one, the political and symbolic message - in addition to the military loss - stands out precisely because of it, he was quoted by CNN as saying.
The sinking of Moskva has raised concerns about Russia's capabilities and naval competence, especially since President Vladimir Putin announced a mission to restore the navy's capabilities, morale and professionalism a decade ago. Many analysts think that the incident reflects Russian deficiencies, including flawed air defense and weak safety procedures on the ship.