The Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet flagship has apaprently sunk after suffering major damage on 14 April. Ukraine claims to have attacked the vessel using a Turkish-made TB-2 Bayraktar drone and Ukrainian-built Neptune anti-ship missiles. Russia disputes that, saying the fire and resulting damage were caused by an accident.
Russian officials initially confirmed “serious damage” to the guided missile cruiser Moskva, but say it was the result of an onboard fire that caused an accidental ammunition explosion. Ukrainian military authorities claim to have carried out a deliberate attack on the vessel.
The Moskva is the second prominent Russian naval vessel to suffer significant damage in the seven-week-old war. The landing ship Saratov sank in port while offloading vehicles and equipment at Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov.
The attack on the Moskva was reportedly carried out using a TB-2 Bayraktar unmanned combat air vehicle in concert with shore-launched cruise missiles. The long-endurance TB-2 drone, produced by Istanbul-based Baykar, can carry a payload of four laser-guided smart munitions, according to Baykar’s website. The platform has been used to great effect against Russian ground forces in Ukraine, both through direct attack and the targeting of long range artillery fires.
Turkey has exported TB-2 drones to several countries, including Ukraine, Qatar and Azerbaijan. In addition to Ukraine, the platform also performed combat missions in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and in Turkish operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party, which Turkey calls a terrorist organisation.
The bulk of damage in the Moskva attack appears to have come from strikes by Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship missiles. The RK-360 Neptune was developed in Ukraine following Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. It is based on the Soviet-era Kh-35 subsonic cruise missile. The Neptune was rushed into service at the outbreak of the current war.
After initially denying the vessel’s demise, Russian defence officials now say the Moskva sank while being towed to port.
However, Ukrainian officials say the ship was sunk in the Black Sea along with an unknown number of crew, which Russian news agency TASS reports as 680 people. Unconfirmed reports from social media users in Ukraine also claimed the Moskva sunk.
People who claim to have observed the event say a TB-2 drone was used to distract the Moskva’s crew and weapon systems while a Neptune strike was launched. Ukraine has previously used TB-2s for maritime reconnaissance of Russian ships offshore. On 12 April the Russian navy said it destroyed one of the drones off the coast of Crimea using a ship-launched missile.
The loss of a guided missile ship like the Moskva could significantly hamper Russian capabilities ahead of the planned offensive in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Russia has made significant use of cruise missiles during the ongoing conflict, particularly the ship-launched 3M14 Kalibr. Russian military forces fired hundreds of cruise missiles into Ukraine during the war’s opening days, with regular use of the weapons continuing throughout the conflict.
The Moskva also provided air defence capability to Russian forces in the area.
This story was updated at 16:45 US eastern time on 14 April 2022 to include updates on the Moskva’s condition, now reported as sunk.