Russia loses warship, says attacks on Kiev will increase

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – A day after Moscow suffered a stinging symbolic defeat with the loss of the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s Defense Ministry on Friday promised to escalate missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital in response to Ukraine’s alleged military “diversions into Russian territory.”

The threat of intensified attacks on Kiev came after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of injuring seven people and damaging about 100 residential buildings with airstrikes on Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine. Authorities in another border region of Russia also reported on Ukrainian shelling on Thursday.

Kyiv has gradually shown some signs of pre-war life after Russian troops failed to conquer the city and withdrew to focus on a concentrated attack in eastern Ukraine, leaving evidence of possible war crimes in their wake. A renewed bombardment could bring the capital’s residents back to shelter at metro stations and the constant howls of air raid sirens.

Ukrainian officials have not confirmed attacking targets in Russia, and reports from Russian authorities could not be independently verified. But Ukrainian officials claimed that their forces hit an important Russian warship with missiles on Thursday. If true, the claim will represent an important victory.

The guided missile cruiser Moscow, named after the Russian capital, sank while being towed to port Thursday after suffering major damage in circumstances that were still in disagreement. Moscow acknowledged a fire on board, but no attack. U.S. and other Western officials could not confirm what caused the fire.

Moscow had the capacity to carry 16 long-range cruise missiles, and its removal reduces Russia’s firepower in the Black Sea. If Ukrainian forces took the vessel out, Moscow probably represents the largest warship that has been sunk in combat since the Falklands War. A British submarine torpedoed an Argentine naval cruiser called ARA General Belgrano during the 1982 conflict, killing over 300 sailors on board.

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The loss of the Russian warship in an invasion that is already widely perceived as a historic blunder was also a symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops regroup on an offensive in eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from the Kyiv region and large parts of the northern part.

In his evening speech Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the people of his country should be proud to have survived 50 days under attack, as the Russian invaders “gave us a maximum of five.”

Zelenskyy did not name Moscow by name, but while listing the ways Ukraine has defended itself against the attack, he mentioned “those who showed that Russian warships can sail away even if it is to the bottom” of the sea. It was his only reference to Moscow.

News of the flagship overshadowed Russian claims of progress in the southern port city of Mariupol, where Moscow’s forces have been battling the Ukrainians since the early days of the invasion in some of the war’s toughest battles – at a terrible price for civilians..

A dwindling number of Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol are facing a siege that has captured well over 100,000 civilians in desperate need of food, water and heat. David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, told the Associated Press in an interview Thursday that people were “starved to death” in the besieged city.

The mayor of Mariupol said this week that more than 10,000 civilians were dead and the death toll could exceed 20,000. Other Ukrainian officials have said they expect to find evidence of atrocities committed against civilians such as those discovered in Bucha and other cities outside Kiev when the Russians withdrew.

Mariupol City Council said Friday that locals reported seeing Russian troops dig up corpses that were buried in apartment buildings and did not allow any new burials “of people killed by them.”

“Why the excavation is being carried out and where the bodies will be taken is unknown,” the council said in a statement released on the Telegram messaging app.

Mariupol’s capture is critical of Russia because it would allow its forces in the south, which came up through the annexed Crimean peninsula, to fully connect with troops in the Donbas region, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, and the target of the looming offensive.

Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the Donbas since 2014, the same year that Russia conquered Crimea from Ukraine. Russia has recognized independence of two rebel-held areas in the region.

Although it is not certain when Russia will launch the full-scale campaign, a regional Ukrainian official said on Friday that seven people were killed and 27 wounded after Russian forces opened fire on civilian buses in the village of Borovaya, near the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are working to determine the circumstances of the attack, Dmytro Chubenko, a spokesman for the regional prosecutor’s office, told Ukraine’s Suspilne news website.

Chubenko said the Ukrainian authorities had initiated a criminal case in connection with a suspected “violation of the laws and customs of war, combined with premeditated murder.” The allegations of an attack on civilian buses could not be independently verified.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that Russian attacks in the Kharkiv region “liquidated a group of mercenaries from a Polish private military company” of up to 30 people and “liberated” an iron and steel factor in Mariupol from “Ukrainian nationalists.” The allegations could not be independently verified.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense explained that the damage to Russia’s flagship in the Black Sea by a fire had caused ammunition stored on board to detonate. In addition to the cruise missiles, the warship also had air defense missiles and other cannons.

The ministry did not say what could have caused the flame, but reported that “the main missile weapons” were not damaged, and the crew, which usually counts about 500, left the vessel. It was not clear if there were any injured.

Maksym Marchenko, the governor of Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Odesa, said Ukrainian forces hit Moscow with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage”. Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine based on a former Soviet design.

The missile’s launch pads are mounted on trucks stationed near the coast and, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, can hit targets up to 280 kilometers (175 miles) away. It would have put Moscow within reach, based on where the ship was when the fire began.

Launched as Slava in 1979, the cruiser served in the Cold War and during conflicts in Georgia and Syria, and helped conduct peacetime scientific research with the United States. During the Cold War, it carried nuclear weapons.

British defense officials said Moscow’s loss would likely force Moscow to change how its naval forces operate in the Black Sea. In a post on social media on Friday, the British Ministry of Defense said that the ship, which returned to operational service last year after a major rebuild, “served a key role as both a command vessel and an air defense hub.”

Other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea were moving further south after the Moscow incident, said a senior U.S. defense officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and has suffered thousands of military casualties. The conflict has killed countless Ukrainian civilians and forced millions to flee.

It has also further increased prices in grocery stores and petrol pumps while pulling on the global economy. The head of the International Monetary Fund said on Thursday that the war helped pressure the organization to downgrade economic forecasts for 143 countries.

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Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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