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The Russian Navy's missile cruiser Moskva sails through the Bosphorus, en route to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul on June 18, 2021.
The Russian Navy’s missile cruiser Moskva sails through the Bosphorus, en route to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul on June 18, 2021. (Yoruk Isik/Reuters)

A die The most important warships of the Russian Navy possesses was badly damaged in the Black Sea, a blow to an army fighting against Ukrainian resistance 50 days after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his neighbour.

Russian sailors have evacuated the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, after a fire blew up munitions on board, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command said on Thursday that the Moskva began to sink after being hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday that the Moskva “remains afloat” and that steps are being taken to tow it to port. The ministry said the crew had been evacuated to other Black Sea Fleet ships in the area.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN’s Brianna Keilar that “there was an explosion” on the Moskva, but said the United States could not say at this stage whether the ship had been hit by a missile.

Whatever the reason for the fire, analysts say it strikes hard at the hearts of the Russian Navy as well as national pride, comparable to the US Navy’s loss of a battleship in World War II or an aircraft carrier today.

What we know about the Russian warship: The Moskva, 611 feet (186 meters) long, with a crew of nearly 500 people, is the pride of the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea. Originally commissioned into the Soviet Navy as Slava in the 1980s, she was renamed Moskva in 1995 and after a refit she was returned to service in 1998, according to military website

The Moskva is armed with a range of anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles as well as torpedoes and naval guns and close-in missile defense systems.

The Moskva is also of symbolic importance to Ukraine, as it was one of the ships involved in the famous Snake Island swap in February, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

According to an alleged audio exchange in late February, as the Russians approached the Ukrainians garrison on Snake Islandalso known as Zmiinyi Island in the Black Sea, a Russian officer said: “This is a military warship. This is a Russian military warship. I suggest you lay down your arms and to surrender to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and casualties. Otherwise, you will be bombarded.”

A Ukrainian soldier replied, “Russian warship, fuck you.”

If Moskva is lost, it would be the second major Russian Navy ship to suffer that fate during Moscow’s war with Ukraine.

At the end of March, Ukraine declared a missile strike had destroyed a Russian landing ship at the port of Berdyansk.

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