Russia's sunken flagship Moskva is literally irreplaceable, its loss shrouded in questions

Russia's Ministry of Defense posted a video Saturday purporting to show dozens of surviving crew members from the missile cruiser Moskva, Russia's Black Sea flagship that sank Thursday under contested circumstances, but the video "did not answer lingering questions about the fate of the vessel and its more than 500 personnel," The New York Times reports Sunday. "Even Vladimir Solovyev, a popular prime-time talk-show host whose pronouncements often reflect the Kremlin line, began asking what went wrong" on Saturday.

Among the unusual aspects of the segment, the Times reports, is that "Solovyev broached the idea that Ukraine had managed to sink the Moskva, one of the biggest naval losses anywhere in the world since World War II." Ukraine says it hit the Moskva with two Nepune anti-ship missiles. Russia said it was damaged by a fire and sank in rough seas.

Photos that appear to show the damaged Moskva being towed before it sank appeared online Sunday.

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The U.S. assess that Ukraine hit the Moskva "with two Neptunes," a senior Pentagon official said Friday, calling it a "big blow" for Moscow. A day earlier, a Pentagon official said after the Moskva was damaged, Russia's four or five "other Black Sea ships that were operating in the vicinity of her or in the northern Black Sea have all moved further south," away from Ukraine.

Russia's naval retreat from Ukraine's coastline suggests it views the threat as real, Japan's Nikkei reports from Istanbul, but "should Russia want to send more ships into the Black Sea to replace the Moskva or withdraw its Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean, it must persuade Turkey to open the Bosporus and the Dardanelles." Turkey has closed both straits to warships, except those returning to their home ports, since Russia's invasion, under the 1936 Montreux Convention.

"If Putin's plans still include an amphibious attack on Odessa or require a significant naval presence to keep pressure on Ukraine, he will need to bring additional vessels to the Black Sea, and that's not going to happen," Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells Nikkei. "Turkey would need to violate Montreux, which it would never do, to allow extra naval vessels to come in." An unidentified Turkish official agreed with that assessment.

"The sister ships of the sunken Moskva, the other Slava-class cruisers Varyag and Marshal Ustinov, are currently operating the eastern Mediterranean," and if Moscow designates one of these its new Black Sea flagship, that will force Turkey to make some hard choices, Turkish Minute notes. "Marshal Ustinov is affiliated with the Northern Fleet, and Varyag is the flagship of the Pacific Fleet."

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