Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment
Mason Clark, Kateryna Stepanenko, and George Barros
April 14, 7:15pm ET
The Russian missile cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, sunk on April 14 after a likely Ukrainian anti-ship missile strike on April 13. Ukrainian forces claimed to strike the Moskva with two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles on April 13. The Kremlin denied this claim and stated the Moskva suffered damage from an accidental fire and ammunition explosion. Initial Ukrainian claims to have sunk the warship on April 13 were likely false, but the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the Moskva sank in a storm while being towed to Crimea after the crew evacuated. ISW cannot independently confirm that a Ukrainian strike sunk the Moskva, though Ukrainian forces likely have the capability to have done so.
The loss of the Moskva—regardless if from a Ukrainian strike or an accident—is a major propaganda victory for Ukraine. The sinking of the Moskva, which was involved in the infamous “Snake Island” incident in the early days of the Russian invasion, is a boon to Ukrainian morale as a symbol of Ukrainian capabilities to strike back at the Russian navy. The Kremlin will conversely struggle to explain away the loss of one of the most important vessels in the Russian fleet. The Kremlin’s current story of losing the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet due to an accidental fire and ammunition explosion will, at minimum, likely hurt Russian morale and cannot be hidden from the Russian domestic audience. Both explanations for the sinking of the Moskva indicate possible Russian deficiencies—either poor air defenses or incredibly lax safety procedures and damage control on the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship.
The loss of the Moskva will reduce Russia’s ability to conduct cruise missile strikes but is unlikely to deal a decisive blow to Russian operations on the whole. The Moskva’s main role was likely conducting precision strikes with Kalibr cruise missiles on targets in Ukrainian rear areas, including logistics centers and airfields. These Russian strikes have been effective but limited in number compared to airstrikes and ground-launched cruise missiles throughout the invasion, and the loss of the Moskva is unlikely to be a decisive blow. Ukraine’s possibly demonstrated ability to target Russian warships in the Black Sea may change Russian operating patterns, however, forcing them to either deploy additional air and point-defense assets to the Black Sea battlegroup or withdraw vessels from positions near the Ukrainian coast.
- The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet sunk on April 14 following a likely Ukrainian cruise missile strike on April 13. The loss of the Moskva is a significant propaganda victory for Ukraine but will likely have only limited effects on Russian operations.
- Ukrainian officials admitted Russian forces captured “some” personnel from Ukraine’s 36th Marine Brigade in Mariupol despite initial denials, though Ukrainian defenders predominantly continued to hold out against Russian assaults.
- Russian forces may have committed damaged units withdrawn from northeastern Ukraine to combat operations in eastern Ukraine for the first time on April 14. Continued daily Russian attacks in eastern Ukraine are failing to take any territory.
- Ukrainian partisans have likely been active in the Melitopol region since at least mid-March.
- Russian forces continued to redeploy from Belarus to Russia for further deployment to eastern Ukraine.