US

Russian ship hit by missiles, US officials say

WASHINGTON — The Moskva was the pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, a symbol of the country’s dominance over the region, and a powerful war machine that had been used to launch precision cruise missiles deep in the ocean. Ukraine.

Despite Russian claims that an accidental fire broke out on the vessel, US officials confirmed on Friday that two Ukrainian Neptune missiles hit the vessel, killing an unknown number of sailors and sending it and its arsenal to the bottom of the Black Sea.

The sinking of the Moskva on Thursday was a blow to the Russian fleet and a dramatic demonstration of the current era of warfare in which missiles fired from shore can destroy even the largest and most powerful ships. It was also the largest combat loss for a navy since 1982, when the Argentine Air Force sank a British guided missile destroyer and other ships during the Falklands War.

Russian cruise missiles have been used with brutal effect on apartment buildings in Ukrainian cities, and Moskva cannons fired at Snake Island in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s most powerful missile platform is impossible to replace, and its sinking was a daring counterattack, retired military officers have said.

The Moskva has inspired awe in those who have seen it – bristling with missiles and towering over the landscape – and has been the epitome of Russian power in the region for decades.

“It was a very impressive ship,” said retired Rear Admiral Samuel J. Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington. “With those surface-to-surface missile launchers, she looks really dangerous. But apparently she can’t take a punch.

The sinking of the ship is of symbolic, diplomatic and military significance.

Russian ships have already been pushed further off the coast of Ukraine, US officials confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss war intelligence assessments. The rest of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is still on range to launch cruise missiles into Ukraine, but is unable to support any kind of amphibious assault on the country’s coastal cities, according to former officials. responsible.

Naval analysts have feared for years that a new generation of ship-killing missiles could endanger large and important ships like the Moskva or the US aircraft carrier fleet. The sinking of the Moskva is a clear sign that the future has arrived.

The Moskva itself was designed as a killer ship. Construction of the ship, initially known as Slava, began in 1976 and the ship entered service in 1983. Built by the Soviet Union to sink American aircraft carriers, it was armed with missiles capable of hitting planes, ships and submarines.

Improved several times over the years, the Moskva should have had defenses to shoot down Ukrainian missiles. The ship was armed with a medium-range surface-to-air system that was supposed to be effective within a range of seven miles, and it also had other missiles designed to eliminate threats out to 50 miles. In theory, its guns could also have shot down a Neptune missile. But none of these defenses worked.

“War is a brutal thing,” said retired Admiral Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations. “You have to invest to beat the kind of weapons people are going to throw at you.”

Anti-ship weapons aren’t difficult to build or use. Hezbollah hit an Israeli warship during the 2006 Lebanon war. Houthi rebels in Yemen fired several anti-ship missiles at a US Navy destroyer in two separate attacks in 2016, which prompted attacks Tomahawk cruise missiles in retaliation. While the US Navy has been investing in anti-missile technology for decades, US war planners have said Chinese missiles will pose a real threat in a conflict.

Although symbolically painful for Russia, the loss of the Moskva also had practical effects on the ongoing war. Missiles believed to have been fired at Ukraine now lie at the bottom of the Black Sea, a blow to Russia’s war plans.

The Moskva would have played a primary role in any potential amphibious assault on the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa. While other landing ships would have been used to bring Russian naval infantry to the coast, Moskva would have protected these ships and launched missile strikes on the city.

Now, Admiral Cox said, any amphibious assault on Ukraine will be much more dangerous for Russia, with its landing craft and amphibians much more vulnerable to attack.

The further Russian ships are from the coast, the more limited their support for ground assaults against Ukrainian cities will be. While the greater distance might make some attacks more difficult, it wouldn’t put the more powerful Russian missiles out of range. Some of Russia’s sea-launched cruise missiles can reach 1,550 miles, while Ukraine’s Neptune missiles have a range of around 190 miles.

Prior to the Moskva strike, a senior Defense Ministry official said, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet operated with relative impunity..

“They thought they could run around the Black Sea and go anywhere they wanted,” said retired Admiral James G. Foggo III, dean of the Navy League of the United States’ Center for Maritime Strategy. “They discovered the opposite.”

Preventing an attack on Odessa is a priority for Ukraine’s military, which has been asking the United States and its allies for weeks for additional anti-ship missiles and other so-called coastal defense weapons.

Senior Ukrainian officials have told the Pentagon they need anti-ship missiles and other weapons to open a new front and repel the Russian invasion, US officials said.

The Moskva strike showed that Ukraine’s demands were “very prescient”, the senior Defense Ministry official said.

By building coastal defenses, Admiral Foggo said, the Ukrainians will be able to engage the Russian fleet even without a strong navy. Missiles, smart mines and other advanced devices will help them ward off Russian ships.

“You don’t necessarily need to have a battleship to go out and protect the coasts of Ukraine“, he said. “It’s easier to shoot from the shore. It is easier to defend than to attack. So now the Russians have a problem.”

The United States responded to Ukraine’s request by adding coastal defense weapons to an $800 million package announced this week. Senior Pentagon officials also asked US military contractors on Wednesday to develop proposals for additional anti-ship missiles that the US could supply to Ukraine or its allies.

Some US officials said they were puzzled why Russia continued to claim the Moskva was destroyed in an accident and not by a Ukrainian strike. Russia remains keen to downplay Ukraine’s military successes to the Russian public. US intelligence agencies believed that senior Russian officials failed to give President Vladimir V. Putin accurate accounts of the war in Ukraine, and former officials said Russian military officials most likely lied to him. Kremlin on what had happened to the Moskva.

“Losing the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is like losing a jewel in the crown: a serious loss of prestige, which I believe probably affected Putin personally given the importance he grants to rebuilding Russia as a great naval power,” said Katarzyna Zysk, a professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies in Oslo.

The sinking of the Moskva, officials said, also demonstrated the strategic importance of extending the battle from Ukrainian cities to the Black Sea, where the Russian fleet has long dominated. And that revealed, Admiral Foggo said, deep problems in the Russian military. Well-trained sailors should have been able to contain the flooding caused by the missile strikes, put out the fire and save the ship, he said.

While few US analysts would have predicted that the Ukrainians could have destroyed the Moskva, officials said that at this stage of the war no one should be surprised by Ukraine’s capabilities.

And the sinking of the ship is one of the most publicized blows ever delivered by the Ukrainian military.

“It is striking to think how detrimental this will be to the morale of the Russian Navy, given its symbolic name, its role as a flagship and the fact that it is a combat casualty,” said said retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. “As for the loss by the Russians of such an important unit, yes, you have to go back to the Second World War.”

Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington, and James Glanz from New York. Helen Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Jean Ismay contributed reporting from Washington.

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