On the War in Ukraine: Russian Cruiser ‘Moskva’ Sinks, Moscow and Kyiv Have Conflicting Narratives About the Incident

Putin’s War Suffers Setbacks

As you probably know, Russia’s war in Ukraine – a blatant act of naked aggression that Vladimir Putin’s government euphemistically calls a “special military operation – is not going well for Moscow or the much-vaunted Russian military. Instead of a 21st Century blitzkrieg and a quick victory culminating in Russia’s capture of Kyiv and the installation of a pro-Moscow, pro-Putin government, the invasion that started on February 22 has stalled. Instead of a Russian version of the Six-Day War, or even the three-day ground campaign of 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, Putin and his allies have gotten themselves into a quagmire in Ukraine.

The most recent setback for Russia was the loss of the cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet. The 186.4 m (611 ft 7 in)-long, 20.8 m (68 ft 3 in) wide guided-missile cruiser was launched in 1979 and commissioned into the Soviet Navy as Slava, the lead ship of her three-ship class. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ship was renamed Moskva (Moscow). For the past 22 years. Moskva served as the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet and took part in the invasion of Ukraine until she sank yesterday.

Missile Hits, or Accidental Explosion?

A Soviet-era destroyer (probably a Udaloy class DDG) at sea in Cold Waters.

Ukraine claims that Moskva was hit by two of its domestically-built Neptune anti-ship missiles, which started a catastrophic fire aboard the ship. For its part, the Russian Defense Ministry claims that Moskva was not attacked, but that a fire – somehow – started aboard her and set off ammunition in the ship’s magazine.

Per an article by the U.S. Naval Institute’s Heather Mongilio, Russia Says Damaged Cruiser Moskva Sank Under Tow Headed to Black Sea Homeport:

Russian Navy’s Black Sea flagship RTS Moskva (121) has sunk while being towed toward Sevastopol, Crimea, after sustaining major damage in a fire Wednesday, Russian state media said on Thursday.

“During the towing of the Moskva cruiser to the port of destination, the ship lost its stability due to damage to the hull received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In the conditions of stormy seas, the ship sank,” the Russian ministry of defense told the TASS newswire.

Earlier on Thursday, a senior defense official could not confirm what caused the fire on the cruiser. Moskva was about 60-65 nautical miles south of Odesa when the fire started, the official told reporters.

Ukrainian officials claimed that Neptune shore-based anti-ship guided missiles hit Moskva which had been operating from the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol.

“It very well could have been from an external source like a missile,” the defense official said. “That range is not out of range for a Neptune. Sixty miles is well within the Neptune’s effective range. But it also could have been something else. So again, … we’re just being careful here.”

Moskva had been battling the fire aboard as recently as this afternoon, the defense official said, adding that the fire was extensive. The defense official could not say at the time how much damage Moskva sustained from the fire.

Truth is the First Casualty in War

As in any war, when the opposing sides tell two different accounts of the same event, it is difficult to determine the truth. But considering that the rationale given by Putin for Russia’s war – I mean, special military operation – is bogus, i.e., Ukraine is not governed by neo-Nazis, and there is no genocide of Russian or Russian-speaking minorities in the embattled country – I tend to give more credence to Ukrainian accounts than I do to the Kremlin’s. Call me biased – I don’t care, because I admit that I am.

I have seen stories online that the Moskva ­– which represents one-third of the class of heavily-armed cruisers that were built as backups to the nuclear-powered Kirov battle cruisers (two of which are still in the Russian navy, including the lead ship in the class, which was renamed as Admiral Ushakov in 1992) in case they failed – is the largest Russian warship to be sunk in combat since World War II. Apparently, most of the crew – at least according to Russian sources – were taken off the ship safely before it sank, but regardless of who is telling the truth about why it caught fire and was so badly damaged that it became a wreck in the Black Sea, the loss of the Moskva shows that the supposedly mighty Russian armed forces aren’t so mighty after all.

 Moskva and Cold Waters

If you wonder why Cold Waters is my go-to computer game when I want to play a military-themed game, this screenshot of a Moskva-class helicopter carrier set against a sunset at sea should give you some insight into the game’s appeal. Game elements and design: (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Interestingly, in all my years of gaming on home computers – and I have owned quite a few computers since my dad’s brother gave me an Apple IIe in 1987 as a gift – the Slava class is sadly underrepresented. It’s one of the Soviet combatants in Lucasfilm Games’ 1987 video game Strike Fleet, and I am sure that it is also in Harpoon Classic 1997, but it was not featured in MicroProse Games’ Red Storm Rising, the 1987 submarine simulator based on parts of Tom Clancy’s 1986 novel about a Third World War in the late 1980s.

Considering that the Slava class was in service in 1984, the setting of the Cold Waters scenario that resembles the WWIII in Red Storm Rising, I was surprised to see that it was not included in Killerfish Games’ 2017 “spiritual successor to Red Storm Rising.”  True, other Soviet classes that were in service in 1984 – the Kynda class cruisers, for instance – are not depicted, either.

But the Slavas that were in the Soviet Navy at the time were important; the lead ship even participated in the famous “Seasick Summit” between then-President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta back in December of 1989. And they look formidable, almost as intimidating as the larger Kirovs that they complemented. In Strike Fleet, the Slava cruisers often wreaked a lot of havoc against my U.S. Navy task forces with their batteries of SS-N-12 Sandbox antiship missiles. They looked mean and deadly, too, even accounting for the primitive graphics of late 1980s personal computers.

Cold Waters does depict a Soviet ship called Moskva, but that vessel was from a two-ship class of which she was the lead ship. The Moskva in Cold Waters is not a cruiser like the Slava class, but rather a helicopter carrier with a contingent of Ka-25 Hormone anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters.

I have engaged – and sunk – Moskva-class ships in Cold Waters; of all the Soviet capital ships in the game, she’s the easiest to kill, even though she is almost as fast as a destroyer and has a respectable arsenal of anti-submarine weapons. That having been said, that Moskva class is not as “cool” or menacing as the Slava class, which was renamed when the older (1967 vintage) helicopter carrier was decommissioned in 1996.

Sources:

Heather Mondiglio, Russia Says Damaged Cruiser Moskva Sank Under Tow Headed to Black Sea Homeport, U.S. Naval Institute website, April 14, 2022 (retrieved on April 15, 2022)

BBC Staff (no byline given), Russian warship: Moskva sinks in Black Sea, April 15, 2022

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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