KYIV, Ukraine – 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 against Russian territory.”
The threat of intensified attacks on Kiev came after Russian authorities accused Ukraine of launching airstrikes on residential buildings in Bryansk, a region bordering Ukraine, injuring seven people. Authorities in another border region of Russia also reported Ukrainian shelling on Thursday.
Life in Kiev has gradually returned to a certain normality, after Russia failed to conquer the capital and withdrew its troops in northern Ukraine to focus on a concentrated attack in the eastern part of the country. A renewed bombardment could bring the city’s residents back to shelter at metro stations and the constant howls of air raid sirens.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed attacks on targets in Russia, and reports from Russian authorities could not be independently verified. But Ukrainian officials claimed that their forces on Thursday hit an important Russian warship with missiles. If true, the claim would represent an important victory.
The guided missile cruiser Moscow, named after the Russian capital, sank while being towed to port 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. The loss of the warship in an invasion already widely regarded as a historic blunder was also a symbolic defeat for Moscow as its troops regrouped into an offensive in eastern Ukraine after withdrawing from most of the north.
During the first days of the war, the crew in Moscow reportedly urged Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender in a standoff. A widespread footage included a Ukrainian soldier saying in response: “Russian warship, go (pronounced) yourself.”
The Associated Press could not independently confirm the Snake Island incident, but Ukraine and its supporters view it as an iconic moment of defiance. The country recently unveiled a stamp commemorating it.
If Ukraine hits Moscow with missiles, the cruiser probably represents the largest warship that has been sunk in combat since the Falklands War in 1982, in which a cruiser of the same size called the ARA General Belgrano was torpedoed by a British submarine and killed over 300 sailors on board. .
In his evening speech on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Ukrainians that they should be proud to have survived 50 days under Russian attack, as the attackers “gave us a maximum of five.”
With a list of the ways Ukraine has defended against the attack, Zelenskyy 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 are being “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.
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.
The Russian military continues to move helicopters and other equipment into place for such an effort, according to a senior U.S. defense officer, and it is likely to soon add more combat units to the ground. But it is still unclear when Russia may launch a full-scale campaign in the Donbas.
Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine in the region since 2014, the same year that Russia conquered Crimea. Russia has recognized the independence of the rebel regions of the Donbas.
Maksym Marchenko, governor of the Odesa region, said Ukrainian forces hit Moscow with two Neptune missiles and caused “serious damage”.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire, without saying what caused the fire. It said the “main missile weapons” were not damaged and that the crew, which usually numbers around 500, left the vessel. It was not clear if there were any injured. In addition to the cruise missiles, the warship also had air defense missiles and other cannons.
Neptune is an anti-ship missile recently developed by Ukraine based on a former Soviet design. The 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 the way its naval forces operate in the Black Sea. In a post on social media on Friday, the British Ministry of Defense said the ship, which returned to operational service last year after a major rebuild, “served a key role as both a command vessel and air defense hub.”
The shipwreck “means that Russia has now suffered damage to two major naval assets since it invaded Ukraine, the first being Russia’s Alligator-class landing ship Saratov on March 24. Both events are likely to prompt Russia to revise its maritime position in the Black Sea.” It informs the British Ministry.
On Thursday, other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea moved further south after the Moscow incident, said a senior U.S. defense officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal military assessments.
While the United States was unable to confirm Ukraine’s claims of attacking the warship, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called it “a major blow to Russia.”
“They have had to choose between two stories: one story is that it was just incompetence and the other was that they came under attack, and that is not a very good result for them either,” Sullivan told Economic Club of Washington. .
Russia invaded on February 24 and has potentially lost thousands of fighters. 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.