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U.S. Officials Confirm Ukrainian Strike on Russian Navy Cruiser

neptune ukraine
Image courtesy Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

Published Apr 15, 2022 6:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. government believes that a Ukrainian missile strike was responsible for the sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea this week, defense officials confirmed Friday. 

Ukraine's government previously claimed that two domestically-made Neptune cruise missiles struck the Moskva on Wednesday, resulting in its sinking.

Russia's Ministry of Defense has provided a different story. On Wednesday, the ministry reported that the vessel sustained a fire on board and suffered an ammunition magazine explosion. On Thursday, the ministry said in an update that the cruiser went down in heavy weather while being towed back to port. 

Though Russia has described the Moskva's destruction as an accident, U.S. officials report that other Russian warships have relocated further away from Ukraine's coastline since the loss of the cruiser. 

In addition, Russia claimed Friday that it conducted a strike on a Ukrainian anti-ship missile production factory as part of a major blitz of artillery and missile attacks on Thursday night. The action and response were not explicitly connected in Russian messaging, but the sudden decision to strike a Ukrainian anti-ship missile facility is viewed by Western analysts as an act of retaliation. 

The cruiser's final location may have been pinpointed by open-source intelligence. Longtime naval analyst H.I. Sutton obtained satellite radar imagery of a vessel of Moskva's size, attended by several other vessels, at a position east of Snake Island at 1900 hours Wednesday. The site is about 50 nm east of the Ukrainian-Romanian border and 75 nm south of Odesa, well within range of Ukraine's Neptune missile system.

No official accounting of casualties has been released for the 510 members of Moskva's crew. A memorial service for the ship was held at the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol on Friday, and a ribbon on the memorial wreath read "korablju i morjakam," or "to the ship and sailors," noted BBC Russia correspondent Liza Fokht. 

The Moskva's commanding officer, Capt. Anton Kuprin, was not photographed or quoted in coverage of the memorial service. Ukraine's ministry of internal affairs claims that Kuprin was killed in the attack on the cruiser.

Russian public messaging suggests a Ukrainian attack

On Russian state media's premiere TV channel, at least one commentator described the loss of the Moskva as sufficient cause for a declaration of war on Ukraine. The statement deviated from two previous government positions: first, that the loss of the cruiser is not connected to Ukraine; and second, that the invasion cannot be called a war, only a "special military operation."

"Moskva is absolutely cause for war, one hundred percent. It's the flagship [of the Black Sea Fleet]. There's nothing to think about. There has to be a response, but what kind?" said one commentator on Rossiya-1, translated by Daily Beast's Russian media monitor, Julia Davis.  

Another Rossiya-1 commentator explicitly attributed the sinking to Ukrainian action, backed by guidance from NATO. "They've been hunting the warship Moskva. It was a pre-planned action. Remember that stamp? What is shown behind the Ukrainian fighter? The warship Moskva is shown. They've been getting ready to destroy it. They seized the moment when they could do it," he said. "They managed to do it."