The Russian cruiser Moskva will go down in history. The sinking will be studied and written about, both as a single event and, likely, a key moment in the War.
The fog of war is still obscuring the event, and information operations are clouding it further. But we can look again at the open source intelligence (OSINT) picture. In particular, the ship’s movements and where she was when it happened.
Analysis of radar satellite imagery of the northern Black Sea on April 13, appears to pinpoint the stricken ship. Other vessels are seen in attendance. The location of the event can now, for the first time, be given coordinates.
A ship matching Moskva’s size and situation is seen at 45°10’43.39″N, 30°55’30.54″E. This position is east of Snake Island, 80 nautical miles from Odesa and 50 nautical miles from the Ukrainian coast. The satellite passed at 6.52pm local time. Based on analysis by multiple people, we are confident that this shows Moskva’s final hours.
The ship was reportedly hit by two Ukrainian missiles. This has been disputed, or omitted in Russian sources but has been confirmed by a Pentagon source, says the AFP News Agency. If a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile was used (and we treat this as unconfirmed at this time), then the location is within range. Moskva has been active since the start of the invasion and this location matches with patterns we observed previously.
Because of the nature of the low-resolution radar satellite imagery we cannot be certain of the identification. But it matches and, following second opinions, we now have confidence that this is it.
The location is also very close to where the ship was sighted on April 12 in satellite imagery.
It is Time
The loss of the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), Moskva, is a serious blow to the Russian Navy. And a massive propaganda coup for the Ukrainians who could not have wished for a more symbolic target.
Moskva was a dated platform. It’s offensive capabilities, with P-1000 Vulkan missiles, were still formidable. And it’s S-300F still relevant. Yet it had received few upgrades to keep it up to date. Its situational awareness and defensive capabilities were likely dated. This highlights the challenges which have been facing the Russian Navy for the past 30 years. There is a mismatch between Russia’s financial situation and its Naval assets. This has led to increased reliance on legacy platforms.
At the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia inherited a superpower-scale Navy. Not one without deficiencies, but certainly one with global reach and some powerful capabilities. As the economic realities of the 1990s hit this vast armada was scaled back. Naturally the older platforms were the first to go, leaving a leaner but overall more modern core.
At the time the Slava class cruisers were among the most impressive. Together with the Kirov class battle cruisers and single aircraft carrier, they became de facto capitol ships of the new Russian navy. But since then investment and progress has been slow. Russia has shown plans for modern large destroyers or cruisers, but has not been able to afford to build any.
Some modern warships have been built but they are all much smaller. And so we have the Black Sea Fleet of the Ukraine Invasion, centered around the aging Moskva. With the smaller units actually being more modern. Both conceptually and technologically.
It is hard to predict where the naval aspect of the war will go from here. Russia still has a numerical and technological advantage in the Northern Black Sea, but Ukraine appears to have a means to fight back. Russia still has control of merchant shipping, but she may have lost full command of the sea.
Update – Russian Navy Movements In Black Sea April 15
Since the sinking, Russia’s reaction has been subject to speculation. At around 6.30pm local time on April 15 a radar satellite covered Crimea. Two formations of Russian Navy warships, likely including Landing ships, are seen steaming northwest. Their direction suggests that they are sailing towards the Ukrainian coast.
There is also increased activity near to the naval base of Sevastopol. This subsequently died down, implying that the vessels had left Sevastopol. It is possible that a fresh operation is underway.