Ukraine Claimed That It Struck Russian Moskva Cruiser With Neptune Anti-ship Missile

Russia said the flagship of its Black Sea fleet was “severely” damaged Wednesday and its crew evacuated following an explosion that a Ukrainian official said was a result of a missile strike.

Ukraine had upgraded Soviet-era Kh-35 anti-ship missiles in late 2010s and developed a new anti-ship missiles named ‘Neptune’ with modern electronics and extended range.

Odesa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram that Ukrainian forces struck the guided-missile cruiser Moskva — the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet — with two missiles and caused “serious damage.” The cruiser usually has about 500 officers and crew, according to The Associated Press.

Multiple Ukrainian sources have claimed that the nation’s armed forces have hit the Russian cruiser Moskva in a guided-missile attack in the Black Sea. 

“It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island!” claimed governor of Odesa Maksym Marchenko, referring to the cruiser’s involvement in an attack on a Ukrainian border post. “Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship.” 

Separately, Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksiy Arestovych claimed that there was a fire aboard the Moskva and that other Russian vessels were attempting to assist.

Open-source satellite imagery could confirm the claim, but it may be difficult to obtain until cloud cover clears. Weather in the region is poor, with heavy clouds, rain and winds of about 18 knots. Moskva was last observed departing Sevastopol on April 10.

If the claim is true, the attack might be the most audacious strike yet attempted by Ukraine’s coastal-defense forces. A previous Ukrainian strike at the port of Berdyansk damaged one Russian tank landing ship and sank another, resulting in an apparent loss of a shipment of munitions. But Moskva is an entirely different kind of warship: she is the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser.

If the strike is confirmed, it would suggest that Ukraine’s anti-ship missile inventory is capable of penetrating heavy air defenses. Among Soviet-era vessels, Moskva is the hardest of targets, possessing three fire-control radars, two search radars, two heavy antiaircraft cannons, six 30mm CIWS cannons, 20 short-range surface-to-air missiles and 64 long-range air defense missiles. 

Marchenko claimed that coastal-defense batteries attacked Moskva with the Neptune, a domestically-built anti-ship missile which was scheduled to enter service in late 2021. In addition to any pre-existing inventory, Ukrainian forces may be in possession of foreign anti-ship missiles recently promised by the United Kingdom. Analysts have suggested that these donations could include the lightweight Brimstone or the 1980s-era Harpoon B1C; the latter would require Ukraine to source shore-based fire-control equipment that Britain does not have. 

If it is confirmed, the strike would have destroyed Ukrainian – not Russian – workmanship. In a twist of history, Moskva was built at Mykolaiv under Soviet rule in 1983, then refitted at the same yard under Ukrainian rule in the 1990s.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 with the goal, according to Western officials, of taking Kyiv, toppling the government and installing a Moscow-friendly one. But the ground advance slowly stalled and Russia lost potentially thousands of fighters. 

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