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Sinking Of Russia's Flagship Navy Vessel A 'Huge Psychological Boost' For Ukraine

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Russia's flagship cruiser sank on April 14 while being towed to port following an explosion. (file photo)

The sinking of the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea is a significant win for Ukraine but may not have a major impact on the course of the war, analysts said.

Russia’s flagship Black Sea vessel sank on April 14 while being towed to port following an explosion that Ukraine’s military took credit for.

The Moskva served as the command-and-control ship for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and was equipped with critical communications infrastructure, Ben Hodges, the former top U.S. Army commander in Europe, told RFE/RL.

“To have this go down, is going to be a huge psychological boost for the Ukrainians and a jolt for the Russian Navy,” said Hodges, who is a military analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Hodges said Russia’s navy hasn’t done much in terms of amphibious operations since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The sinking of the Moskva would make conducting any amphibious operations even more of a challenge.

“The Russian Navy will be very careful now about getting too close to shore,” he said.

Glen Howard, president of Washington-based think tank Jamestown Foundation, told a U.S.-Ukraine Business Council conference on April 14 that the sinking of the Moskva would help Ukraine keep shipping lanes around Odesa open. Odesa is a key port for Ukrainian exports such as wheat.

Howard said Russia will not be able to bring in a new ship to replace the Moskva because Turkey is limiting entry and exit to the Black Sea to vessels that are based there. Turkey has that right under the 1936 Montreux Convention.

Robert Lee, a Russian-military analyst, agreed that the sinking of the Moskva was a “serious success” for Ukraine, but said he did not think it would have a “significant” impact on the course of the war.

“An amphibious assault was already out of the question, and [the Moskva] was in need of modernization,” he said in a tweet.

The Moskva was equipped to fire Bazalt anti-ship missiles and likely did not take part in strikes on land from the sea, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said.

Kyiv claimed to have hit the Moskva with Neptune anti-ship missiles early on April 14, while Russia said a fire broke out on the ship, causing an explosion.

The U.S. military agreed with the Ukrainian version.

"We assess that they hit it with two Neptunes," a senior Pentagon official said in a briefing with reporters on April 15, calling it a "big blow" for Moscow.

Howard said a Neptune missile can travel 300 kilometers, which should enable Ukraine to keep Russian ships far enough away from Odesa to export wheat. He said many analysts thought Ukraine was wasting money on the development of the Neptune and that the sinking of the Moskva has proved otherwise.

The Neptune strikes were believed to have caused casualties, but it was difficult to assess how many, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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The ship held slightly more than 500 sailors.

The Pentagon official added that the United States had observed survivors being recovered by other Russian vessels in the area. Russia said the Moskva's crew was evacuated to nearby ships.

The ISW said that, regardless of which reason for the sinking of the Moskva is correct, it all points to problems with Russia’s war effort.

"Both explanations for the sinking of the Moskva indicate possible Russian deficiencies -- either poor air defenses or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet's flagship," the ISW said in its daily briefing..

The last time a ship of this size was lost in a war was 40 years ago when the British sank the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano during the Falkland War, killing 323 crew members, Howard said.

The General Belgrano and the Moskva were of similar size -- each about 600 feet (182 meters) long, though the Argentine cruiser had twice the number of sailors, CNN said.

The sinking of the Moskva is the latest setback for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, which is now in its 51st day.

Russia launched its attack on February 24 from the north, east, and south, spreading its forces of about 150,000 troops too thin and suffering significant casualties as a result.

The United States and the West have put Russia’s death toll at over 10,000.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

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