Update: This file has been updated with Russia acknowledging the sinking of the Moskva.
Russia said Thursday that the flagship of its Black Sea fleet sank, after Ukraine announced that its missiles had struck the Moskva off its coast. US officials said the missile cruiser was rocked by an explosion after the Ukrainian attack, while Russian officials didn't mention any attack, the Washington Post reports. The Russian defense officials said the Moskva sank while being towed to port for repairs during a storm. There was no word on whether any crew members were killed.
Maxim Marchenko, the head of military forces in Odesa, said the 610-foot ship was hit by two Neptune anti-ship missiles, the New York Times reports. Russian authorities said only that ammunition had exploded on the ship and the crew of around 500 had been evacuated because of a fire. Russia did acknowledge that the ship had been "seriously damaged." Experts said they found Ukraine's claim of a fatal missile strike more believable than Russia's accounts. The Moskva was about 75 miles from Odessa when the blast occurred, a US official said.
Either way, the loss of the guided missile destroyer will hit Russia's military prestige as well as its military capabilities. The ship is a "symbol of Russian naval power in the Black Sea," Michael Petersen of the Russia Maritime Studies Institute tells the BBC, saying the sinking will be a morale boost for Ukrainian forces. "The Moskva has been a thorn in the side of the Ukrainians since the beginning of this conflict." Military intelligence analysts say distress signals sent from the Moskva included the Morse code for "SOS" and "sinking," the Telegraph reports.
Marchenko noted that the Moskva was the warship defenders of the Snake Island outpost told to "go f--- yourself" early in the war. The ship went "exactly where it was sent by our border guards on Snake Island!" he claimed in a Telegram message, per the Guardian. The Washington Post notes that it would be the biggest sinking of a naval vessel since World War II. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)