Moskva cruiser: Russian Navy flagship hit by Ukraine, has it sunk - was it hit with Neptune anti-ship missiles

The Russian warship that was told to ‘go f*** yourself’ may have been destroyed by Ukrainian forces

The Moskva cruiser, which was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, has sunk after it was heavily damaged.

Ukrainian officials said that they had caused “serious damage” to the warship.

The Odessa region’s governor Maksym Marchenko said forces struck the Russian guided-missile cruiser with two missiles.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry denied this and said the ship sank in a storm.

Earlier, the ministry had said that a fire on the ship - which they denied was caused by a missile strike - led to around 500 crew being forced to evacuate.

But why is the vessel important, and what exactly happened?

Here is everything you need to know.

What happened?

The Russian Defence Ministry has said ammunition on board the ship detonated as a result of a fire whose causes “were being established”, adding that the Moskva’s entire crew was evacuated.

They later said that the ship sank in a storm while being towed to a port.

The cruiser typically has about 500 on board - Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said there were 510 crew members aboard at the time of the strike.

The reported attack came a day after US president Joe Biden called Russia’s actions in Ukraine “a genocide” and approved $800 million (£600 million) in new military assistance to Kyiv, saying weapons from the West have sustained Ukraine’s fight so far and “we cannot rest now”.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ministry of Defence)

Why is it important?

The sinking of the cruiser is a major blow to Russia, after the tank carrier Orsk was hit and set on fire in an attack in Berdyansk in the Sea of Azov late last month.

Russian troops are gearing up for a major offensive in the eastern Donbas region, after Vladimir Putin announced a scaling back of operations in other areas, with a renewed focus on regions where Moscow-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014.

Such a blow to Russia’s military forces just before that offensive truly begins would no doubt hurt morale within Putin’s forces, and could prove a boost to an already defiant Ukrainian army.

The loss of the warship which is named after the Russian capital is also a devastating symbolic defeat for Putin’s regime.

What is the Moskva?

The Moskva is the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Built in the late 70s, it was originally known as Slava, before being recommissioned as Moskva in 2000.

The ship has aided previous Russian military offensives in Georgia and Syria, and was responsible for blockading the Ukrainian fleet during the 2014 Crimean Crisis.

Moskva is the same ship that, on day two of the invasion, made headlines when its demand for the surrender of Ukrainian personnel stationed on Snake Island was met with a sharp response.

Footage from late February showed the Russian warship approaching the coast of the island, with an officer giving Ukrainian guards an ultimatum.

A miniature sculpture reflecting on the loss of the Black Sea Snake Island and commemorating its defenders (Photo: Janos Kummer/Getty Images)

“I am a Russian military ship. I repeat, I am a Russian military ship,” they said. “I am proposing you put down your arms immediately to avoid bloodshed and unjustified deaths in the worse case you will be hit with a bomb strike.”

In response to the Russian demands, a Ukrainian guard bravely stood up for their region, shouting back: “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

Initial reports suggested the guard who made the non-compliant statement - which has since become a rallying cry for Ukrainians - was killed in the resulting assault.

But it was later confirmed that he had been released as part of a prisoner exchange and subsequently awarded a Ukrainian medal.

Moskva was one of two ships involved in the incident: the other - the Russian patrol boat Vasily Bykov - was claimed to have been destroyed by Ukraine in early March.

Were Neptune missiles used?

The ship was reportedly attacked by Neptune cruise missiles, Ukrainian anti-ship missiles designed to defeat surface warships and transport vessels.

A revised design of the Soviet Kh-35 anti-ship missile, Neptunes have substantially improved range and electronics, and only entered service with the Ukrainian Navy in March 2021.