By David Ljunggren
-The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva missile cruiser, was badly damaged when ammunition on board blew up, Interfax news agency quoted the defence ministry as saying on Thursday.
The blast is yet another military setback for Russia, which has suffered a series of blows since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to “denazify” the country.
Interfax said all the crew had been evacuated. It cited the ministry as blaming the blast on a fire and said the cause was being investigated.
A Ukrainian official earlier said the Moskva had been hit by two anti-ship missiles but did not give any evidence. The 12,500 tonne ship usually has a crew of around 500.
“As the result of a fire on the Moskva missile cruiser, ammunition detonated. The ship was seriously damaged,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The crew was completely evacuated.”
Russian news agencies said the Moskva, commissioned in 1983, was armed with 16 anti-ship “Vulkan” cruise missiles with a range of at least 700 km (440 miles). Interfax did not give more details of the incident.
In April 2021, the agency quoted a retired Russian admiral as saying “this is the most serious ship in the Black Sea”.
Kyiv says the Moskva featured in one of the landmark early exchanges of the war, when Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island, a small outcrop in the Black Sea, told the ship to “go fuck yourself” after it demanded they surrender.
Although Ukrainian officials initially said all 13 guards had died in the subsequent Russian attack, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy later said some of them survived.
Maksym Marchenko, governor of the region around the Black Sea port of Odesa, earlier said the Moskva had been hit by two Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles, but did not provide evidence.
“It has been confirmed that the missile cruiser Moskva today went exactly where the border guards on Snake Island told it to go,” he said in an online post. Ukraine’s defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month Ukraine said it had destroyed a large Russian landing support ship, the Orsk, on the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast of the Black Sea. Moscow has not commented on what had happened to the ship.