The Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva rests deep beneath the Black Sea today.
Ukraine claims that it hit Moskva with missiles, causing it to sink. Russia has insisted the reason for the sinking was a fire. On Friday, the United States supported Ukraine’s account, with a senior defense official saying that it believes that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles hit the Russian warship in the Black Sea.
But what does the loss of the Moskva mean for the Russian war effort?
The biggest effect may be on Russian morale. As the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva was one of its most visible assets in the Ukraine war. Though Moscow carefully manages news about the war in Russia, it will be hard to hide the sudden absence of such a large ship.
And its loss will raise doubts about Russia’s warfighting abilities, whether it was due to enemy action or accident.
“Both explanations for the sinking of the Moskva indicate possible Russian deficiencies — either poor air defenses or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship,” analysts Mason Clark, Kateryna Stepanenko and George Barros at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their daily war briefing.
Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, said the doubts went all the way to the Kremlin.
“It raises questions about naval competence 10 years after (Russian President Vladimir) Putin announced he was going to restore the navy’s capabilities, morale and professionalism,” Schuster said.
“It seems he has not been able to keep any of his promises for any of Russia’s military services,” Schuster said, noting Russia had suffered setbacks on land too.
But analysts are split on what impact the sinking will have on the Russian invasion.
The ISW analysts see it as a relatively minor blow, saying the ship was mostly used for cruise missile strikes on Ukrainian logistic centers and airfields. Russia has land-based systems and strike aircraft that can do the same thing, they said.
However, they added that if it was indeed a Ukrainian missile that led to the sinking, the Russian navy would have to rethink its operations, possibly moving ships farther from Ukrainian territory and adjusting their air defenses.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Moskva’s main mission was air defense for the Russian forces in the Black Sea.
“It will have an impact on that capability, certainly in the near term,” Kirby told reporters.