The sinking of Russia’s Moscow cruisers has given the Kremlin’s fleet a major blow in the Black Sea and offered a major PR victory to the Ukrainian forces.
The warship – which sank on Thursday after Ukrainian and US officials said it was hit by two Neptune missiles, exploded and broke into flames – was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and one of its most visible weapons in its attack on Ukraine.
The significance is not lost for the Ukrainians, who quickly began to use the incident in videos and photos posted on social media. But experts disagree on whether the shipwreck could turn the tide of war.
“If they start losing their fleet during this war before the war is even over, the impact on their long-term strategy will be enormous,” the retired brigade said. Gen. Kevin Ryan, a former U.S. defense attaché in Russia who is now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University.
Ryan noted that the Russian navy has operated about 12 to 24 ships in the Black Sea since the start of the invasion, 11 of which are about the same size as Moscow. Losing even one of these vessels cuts Moscow’s naval power in the Black Sea by about 10 percent, he said.
It is also unlikely that Russia will be able to quickly replace Moscow, which can transport up to 500 sailors, as “it takes them a long time to repair and rebuild ships,” Ryan said. “They are notoriously bad at it.”
At the Institute for the Study of War, meanwhile, analysts see the incident as “a major propaganda victory for Ukraine” that is likely to hurt Russian morale, but not a major shift in conflict.
Because Russia largely used the vessel for air defense coverage of its Black Sea fleet and not to attack Ukrainian land targets, it is “unlikely that its sinking will provide a decisive blow to Russian operations as a whole,” analysts Mason Clark, Kateryna Stepanenko and George Barros wrote. in their daily war briefing.
However, they noted that the alleged Ukrainian attack could change Russian patterns of operations in the sea and force them to deploy more air defenses to the area or withdraw their vessels from positions near the Ukrainian coast.
The United States has already seen such a maneuver, a senior defense official told reporters on Thursday as other Russian ships in the northern Black Sea moved further south since the explosion.
It is difficult to determine whether Moscow will be a turning point due to the Russian navy’s hitherto limited use of its warships to attack Ukrainian targets, instead of mainly using aircraft and land-based systems for such attacks.
Moscow’s naval component to the war has largely been limited to two operations: replenishment and replenishment of troops operations in the south and some cruise missile attacks on Ukraine, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
Since Moscow’s main mission was air defense for the Russian forces in the Black Sea, “it will have an impact on their capabilities, certainly in the short term,” he said.
Whether it has an impact on their fleet capacity in the long run is “just unclear right now,” Kirby added.
What is clear, however, is that the shipwreck matters.
Moscow is the first major surface combatant to have been sunk by enemy action in 40 years since the 1982 Falklands War, in which the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano sank after being torpedoed by a British nuclear-powered submarine.
It is also an already commonly known ship thanks to its prominent place at the beginning of the invasion, when it told Ukrainian troops on Snake Island to surrender, only to be asked to “f—” itself. The moment was widely shared as a rallying cry and ode to Ukrainian resistance.
Ukrainian officials have already begun mocking the shipwreck on social media with an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Oleksiy Arestovych, on Thursday at tweet and video as he claimed portrayed the point at which Moscow was hit by Ukraine’s missiles.
“The flagship of the Russian navy, Moscow, carried out a negative surface operation in the area of the island where it was asked to go to f ***. Where is Moscow? It sank,” he said.
And the county defense secretary tweeted Friday that the ship is now a “worthy dive site.”
“A ‘flagship’ Russian warship is a worthy dive site. We have another dive site in the Black Sea now. Will definitely visit the wreck after our victory in the war. [By the way]I already have 300 dives, “said Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted along with a photo of him diving into the sea.
The destruction of the ship could also affect Russian morale and raise new doubts about Russia’s hitherto disastrous invasion of Ukraine, according to Clark, Stepanenko and Barros.
“Conversely, the Kremlin will fight to explain away the loss of one of the most important vessels in the Russian navy,” they wrote. “Both explanations for the sinking of Moscow indicate possible Russian shortcomings – either poor air defense or incredibly lax security procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship.”
But it could also lead to an escalation of the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine. Russia’s defense ministry warned on Friday that it would step up strikes in retaliation for hits on Moscow’s assets – though it continued to deny that the ship had been successfully attacked.