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Russian Warship Goes, F*cks Self (Or Was That A Ukrainian Missile?)
The ship has definitely hit the fan.
The flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, was damaged so badly by explosions of its on board ammunition yesterday that its crew had to abandon ship. Ukrainian military officials say the ship was hit with a Ukrainian-built Neptune anti-ship missile, and that it was either sinking or has already sunk, although Russia's Defense Ministry claims the ship's ammunition blew up after a fire, but that Moskva is still afloat and will be towed to port.
Russian Defense Ministry photo
Every major news source reporting on the story says neither country's claims have yet been independently verified, but we're inclined to believe Ukraine on this, because Russian government pronouncements about the war in Ukraine seem a little untrustworthy these days.
The Washington Post points out, perhaps a bit archly, that the Russian statement about the ship being damaged by a fire was released hours after the Ukrainian announcement, and that the Russian Defense Ministry "acknowledged that a key ship in its Black Sea fleet had sustained significant damage but did not address the Ukrainian claims."
You may want to be skeptical of any Russian news releases purporting that everything's under control, the situation's normal on Moskva , or insisting that it suffered a slight weapons malfunction, but uh ... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?
Russian state media added that it was a boring conversation anyway.
In terms of How Much This Matters, the New York Times seems to sum it up pretty well: it's an "embarrassment" for Russia, and a "potent symbolic victory" and potentially a huge morale boost for Ukrainians, even more so if it can be verified thatMoskva was destroyed, or even critically damaged, by a Ukrainian-built anti-ship missile. But it also may not matter too much to the overall course of the war, since Russia has shifted most of its efforts to fighting in the east of Ukraine:
Russian forces are on the verge of taking the strategic port city of Mariupol, which would pave the way for the creation of a “land bridge” between Russian territory and the occupied Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine says this is the first time the Neptune missile has been used in the war, and the Times also has some thoughts on the potential significance of that for Ukraine, which has had its access to the Black Sea shut off by the Russian warships off its coast:
The Pentagon estimates that the Russian Navy has “a couple of dozen ships” in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and Ukraine has had a hard time countering Russia’s naval dominance. [...]
Lt. Cmdr. Jason Lancaster, a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, said the threat posed by missiles like the Neptune “changes operational behavior” of an opponent.
Writing for the Center for International Maritime Security this month, he said that “these behavioral changes limit Russia’s ability to utilize their fleet to their advantage,” and that “the added stress of sudden combat increases fatigue and can lead to mistakes.”
Well gosh, that sure would be a shame, although it would line up with snarky comment made by an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Oleksiy Arestovych:
"Either two sailors were smoking in the wrong place, or once again certain safety measures were violated." [...] He later tweeted that the ship “drowned.”
That tweet includes video that Arestovych purports shows the explosion aboard Moskva (it's a big flash of light in the dark, followed a while later by a loud, possibly ship-shattering "kaboom"). Arestovych also describes the ship as having "made a negative ascent," so we strongly support the nomination of Oleksiy Arestovych to become Ukraine's Minister of Jokes.
Also too, it should be noted that Moskva appears to be the very Russian warshipthat Ukrainian border guards told to "go sit on a dick " early on in the Russian invasion, although the more common western translation of the Ukrainian curse was "Russian warship, go fuck yourself." Mission accomplished, maybe!
Also yesterday, President Biden announced a new $800 million package of military aid that will be sent to Ukraine, which will include weapons systems the US hasn't previously provided. The new weapons reflect the changing nature of the war, as Russia seeks to take over the eastern part of Ukraine instead of attempting to invade Kyiv and remove the Ukrainian government. The Pentagon says the new aid will include
155mm howitzer artillery -- a specific request from Ukraine -- 200 M-113 armored personnel carriers, 100 armored humvees, 300 Switchblade drones, and 11 MI-17 helicopters. The U.S. had given Ukraine five helicopters as part of an earlier shipment .
We'll close with this observation about what a terrific and easy success the Ukraine War has been for Russian President Vladimir Putin:
Vladimir Putin, strategic genius: A flagship sunk, tens of thousands of Russian KIA and WIA, pariah status and global humiliation, and NATO about to be 32 countries including Sweden and Finland. An amazing amount of self-inflicted damage in a record amount of time.https://twitter.com/shashj/status/1514181898456555531 …
— Tom Nichols (@Tom Nichols) 1649897679
On the other hand, Putin seems well along the way to reestablishing at least part of the good old Soviet days, what with his elimination of a free press and freedom of speech, the disappearance of western businesses, some nice purges of enemies of the state, and possibly even bringing back the gulags. We can only assume that before long, there'll again be five-year plans and a return of western media trying to figure out who's up or down in the Kremlin by looking at who stands closest to Putin during military parades.
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