Updated. See below.
Right now, the only things known with any certainty are that the Moskva (Moscow) is abandoned and burning. Given that there is a storm as well makes life interesting for the Russian Navy and for efforts to get any commercial overhead imagery.
The Russians claim that there was a fire onboard, and that the fire caused ammunition to explode. That the Russian Navy has quite the reputation for fires and explosions on its ships and submarines is a given. They’ve even had the issue pop up in land-based storage bunkers as well. Seems to be a split between faulty ammunition/propellants and people sneaking off to smoke or do other things in places they shouldn’t. The latter should be taken with some salt, as often the easiest thing to do (and it’s not limited to the Russian Navy, cough, cough) is to blame the dead to hide the real problems. To that end, the homework of the day is to read this from Trent Telenko.
I’m finding the Ukrainian response amusing. Elements of the Ukrainian government have claimed credit for the kill (and trust me, this is a hard kill even if it doesn’t sink). They claim two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles were fired at the ship, which may also have been harassed by a drone to distract the crew ahead of the missiles. Zelensky seems to have stopped short of taking credit, instead joking that maybe a couple of sailors were smoking where they shouldn’t, or that some of the other things the Russian Navy has used for excuses in the past took place. Epic, and I do mean EPIC, trolling.
Even if Vladimir tries to blame the loss on the U.S. or NATO, the loss of the Moskva is going to be gutting to Russian morale. On the one hand, you have the government saying ‘Hey, we had yet another fire and explosion, oops.’ On the other, you have the Ukrainians getting a huge morale boost even if the Russians continue to deny they hit it.
Operationally, Black Sea fleet ops have taken a major hit. This was their flagship, and it also had an impact on land operations by the Ukrainians since it could hit ground and air targets a fair distance inland. If the Ukrainians did indeed hit it as part of battlespace preparation, it was a brilliant move. They now can use air assets in regions previously denied; they’ve eliminated a good chunk of naval fire support for Russian ground troops; they’ve hampered naval operations which may let them do a bit more at sea; and, they’ve hammered Russian civilian and military morale even as they’ve boosted their own. This is only going to accelerate some of the issues with Russian contract and conscript troops who are voting with their feet as it were.
This is going to reshape Southern operations. The Ukrainians have just gained strategic and tactical flexibility previously denied. The Russian troops have just lost the assurance of naval support. Both sides are going to be rethinking operations and changing deployments accordingly. While this looks to be a good thing for the Ukrainians, it could also put the Russian Private Military Contractor (PMC) troops and troops from other countries, into a position where the use of chemical weapons is likely to increase. Right now, I’m agnostic on if they have already been used and am waiting for better data before drawing any conclusions. It would not, however, in any way be surprising if they had done so. While this will also reshape Eastern operations, the largest impact will be on the South.
Finally, this is a hard kill. The ability to return it to service anytime soon is about zero. Think about what happened to the USS Bonhomme Richard. Damage to the structure of the ship is going to be extensive, particularly since the crew had to abandon ship. There are reports that counterflooding was used, which also adds to the structural damage and the need to clean, neutralize the corrosion, and repair those areas. Even if the damage were minimal, and there is no reason to believe it is, you are still talking weeks to months in dry dock.
As with the Bonhomme Richard, the odds are that even if it survives enough to be towed to port, it will be cheaper and easier to rebuild it rather than try to repair it. Which brings up the fact that the Russians may not be able to do that either. Between a lack of skilled workers, the metals and parts, the need for machinery that may not be operational because of the sanctions, and the corruption that is modern Russia, I’m not sure they can rebuild it. Even if Putin or his successor makes it a Hero Project to keep the normal graft at bay.
As a complete aside, I’m tempted to start a pool on when and if Vladimir was told about this. Given that he (and Xi) have in the past literally shot the messenger (to be fair and accurate, had them shot), you know that no one wanted to be the one to tell him. I’m just about willing to bet that the first notification was couched in as positive terms as possible (small fire Comrade, they have it out soon!). I’m also wondering what he will say about it, as he will HAVE to say something about it, if only to try to minimize the hit to morale. Which also brings up what Vladimir is ultimately told, as that will affect both what he says and any military response. And, yes, you can pretty much count on some form of military response even if he goes with the ‘accident on board’ route and denies the Ukraine did anything.
Keep in mind, Vladmir is in a bubble, where the rule is only tell him what he wants to hear. Bad things happen to those who don’t do that. Such only makes the bubble thicker and larger as those closest to him also are not told what they don’t want to hear or have get to Vladimir.
His response will be interesting. It will also likely tell us a great deal about what he was told. One can only hope that he doesn’t decide to roll the dice again on the basis of losing the Moskva. Again (and again) desperate people do stupid things.
UPDATE: It is now confirmed. The Moscow is now the latest destination for glass-bottom boat tours.
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