The sinking of the warship Moskva, the 600-foot, 12,500-ton flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – whether due to a Ukrainian missile strike or, as Russia claims, a fire on board – is a serious setback for Russia.
The overthrow is both military and symbolic, proof that his ships can no longer operate with impunity, and a blow to morale. On the other hand, it raises Ukrainian hopes, demonstrating the defenders’ local technological capability and exposing a weakness in the Russian Navy’s missile defenses.
It also puts a question mark over Russian plans for an offensive on the city of Odessa by amphibious means.
Russia and the Black Sea
The famous body of water bound by Ukraine to the north and northwest, Russia and Georgia to the east, Turkey to the south, and Bulgaria and Romania to the west, which connects the Sea of Marmara via the Bosphorus, then the Aegean Sea via the Dardanelles, has always been the gateway for hot water from Russia to Europe.
For Russia, the Black Sea is both a springboard to the Mediterranean and a strategic buffer between NATO and itself. Dominance of the Black Sea region is a geostrategic imperative for Moscow, both to project Russian power in the Mediterranean and to secure the economic gateway to key markets in southern Europe.
The Black Sea Fleet has a long history and is considered to have been founded in 1783. It includes Russian Navy warships in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Eastern Mediterranean. Its headquarters are in Sevastopol, the main port on the Crimean peninsula.
Although Crimea became part of Ukraine after the collapse of the USSR, the Russian Navy continued to have its base in Sevastopol under an agreement between the two countries. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.
In an article titled “The Naval Power Shift in the Black Sea” written for War on the Rocks, an online platform for analysis and debate on strategy, defense and foreign affairs, Michael B Petersen, director of the Russian Institute of Maritime Studies at the US Naval War College, said: “Moscow’s goals in the region are not limited only to the Black Sea basin.
“While the Black Sea Fleet helps defend Russia’s southern maritime approaches, it also allows Moscow to use the Black Sea as a jumping off point to the eastern and central Mediterranean. From Moscow’s perspective, these activities enable its diplomacy and power projection in areas where Russia previously had limited influence, and they set back what Russia sees as US and NATO efforts to destabilize its partners in places like Syria.
Black Sea in the Ukrainian War
Russia has been pushing for full control of the Black Sea since the 2014 Crimean crisis.
During the ongoing invasion, domination of the Black Sea has been a major Russian objective, as well as the land bridge to connect Russia and Crimea. As such, intense efforts were made to capture Mariupol, the Sea of Azov port in Ukraine’s independent Donetsk Oblast. On Friday (April 15), Mariupol looked set to fall into Russian hands.
General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, reportedly said taking Mariupol would complete Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, give it control of more than 80% of Ukraine’s coastline Black Sea and cut its maritime trade.
Russia was also to concentrate its military efforts on Odessa, west of Crimea. If the Odessa region also fell, Ukraine would lose access to its entire Black Sea coastline and would effectively be reduced to a landlocked country. It would be a devastating blow to the Ukrainian economy.
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Odessa Oblast has a multi-ethnic population where Russians form the second largest group. It is also the largest region in Ukraine which serves as an important energy and transportation corridor with abundant natural resources. The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal connects the Black Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and the port of Odessa serves as a vital link between Ukraine and the outside world.
The loss of the Moskva, however, should put the brakes on a planned amphibious assault on Odessa. But the pace of its attack on all points along the Black Sea that are still under Ukrainian control is likely to pick up. This can be done by rocket forces, aerial bombardments or offshore ships launching cruise missiles.
Sinking of the Moskva
Russian media have described the Moskva as one of the largest ships in the Russian Navy. It had been deployed by Moscow to the shores of Georgia during the 12-day war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August 2008, and to support Russian troops and equipment in Syria in 2015. After the Russia invaded Ukraine in February, ships from the Black Sea Fleet, including the Moskva, fired a barrage of missiles at Ukraine and blocked the country’s access to the Black Sea.
The sinking of the Moskva is considered the worst loss in the history of naval warfare since the sinking of the Argentine naval cruiser General Belgrano by a British submarine on May 2, 1982, during the Falklands War.
The fact that the Moskva was sunk by land-based anti-ship cruise missiles that took advantage of bad weather and used decoy drone attacks to defeat the ship’s air defense systems demonstrates the success of the original measures adopted by the Ukraine during the war. .
In its intelligence assessment report on the incident, the UK Ministry of Defense said: “This incident means that Russia has now suffered damage to two key naval assets since the invasion of Ukraine, the first being the Russian Alligator-class landing ship Saratov on March 24. Both events will likely lead Russia to review its maritime posture in the Black Sea.