Moskva to sink or not to sink?

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The Neptune coastal defence system launches a cruise missile during live-fire tests at a firing range in Odesa Oblast on April 27, 2020. Photo by Ministry of Defence of Ukraine

By Russell Bruce

Reports of a missile strike on the Russian flagship Moskva in the Black Sea has given rise to two narratives. The Russians claim a fire started and spread to where the missiles were stored resulting in an explosion which damaged their flagship vessel. This implies it was a major fire the crew were unable to control. The Moskva has a crew of just under 500 although other reports suggest there were 700 on board. Possiblly due to the war situation. The Russian story indicates a large crew were unable to contain a fire the Russians have not explained the cause of. Sounds like incompetence. When fire threatens stored armaments there are two options – flood the ship or abandon ship. As the Russians admit the missiles blew that is an admission flooding failed to save Moskva. The Russians claim the stricken flagship was towed away.

Image by Maxar of Moskva in port Sevastopol in Crimea on April 7, 2022

The Ukrainians claim the fire and explosion was the result of it being hit by two Neptune missiles and the Moskva rolled over on its side and sank. The Ukrainian claim has some possible justification as it is known that Ukraine had further developed Neptune in the last year. This is the first claim of their use since delivery of RK-360MC to the Ukranian Navy. Ukraine has long been a major arms producer dating back to the Soviet period. Armament and rocket production was based around Dnipro. In the Soviet era it is said Dnipro churned out armaments like sausages. Prior to the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea Ukraine was the 4th largest arms exporter in the world. Since 2014 Ukraine has concentrated on arms production needed for the war in Donbas.

Neptune Launcher Courtesy President.gov.ua CC BY 4.0

Neptune is a Ukrainian developed anti-ship cruise missile developed from the Soviet Kh35 anti-ship missile. It has a range of up to 300 kilometres. Neptune is a coastal defence system comprising a USPU mobile launcher with four missiles, a TZM -360 transport reload vehicle, a RCP360 command and control vehicle and a special cargo vehicle. It can operate up to 25 kilometres inland of the coastline. The system has been under progressive development since 2015.

Command control Neptune Courtesy President.gov.ua CC BY 4.0

The Ukrainian Navy obtained the first units of the RK-360MC Neptune in March 2021. How many Neptunes are currently available to the Ukrianian armed forces is unknown – unsurprisingly.

Former chief of UK defence intelligence, Air Marshall Phil Osborn, told Sky News “the Ukrainian version of events that the fire was caused by a missile strike was ‘more likely’ to be correct.”

The truth of events will out in due course. The people of Russia and the family of the Moskva crew are unlikely to find out anytime soon if Ukrainian version of events is closer to reality.

Irony

Moskva was originally named Slava, commissioned in 1983. Slava was build by the Kommunara Shipbuilding plant in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Ukraine has long been a major shipbuilding nation. Slava was recommissioned in 2000 as Moskva. If as it appears Ukraine has now destroyed Moskva, the pride of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, there is a sense of justice for Russian wanton destruction of Ukrainian towns and villages and the war crimes committed against innocent inhabitants.

UPDATE: Thurs 21.25p.m The Kyiv Independent is claiming the Russians have now admitted Moskva has sunk. BBC confirmed a statement from Russian Ministry of Defence that Moskva had sunk but made no mention of Ukrainian cruise missiles as the cause.

UPDATE: Friday 15th April The Ukrainian version of the events that the Moskva rolled over and sank has been confirmed. The US has said Ukrainian Neptune missiles sank the Moskva. The Guardian reported the Lithuanian foreign minister as saying the flagship sent out a distress call and was lying on it side by 1.14am local time. A Turkish ship arrived around 2.00am and rescued 54 sailors. Both Turkey and Romania confirmed that by 3.00am the ship had sunk. The only report of action by other Russian ships in the Black Sea is they had relocated to a safer distance.