For Russia and the West, the sinking of the Moskva is truly historic


In 2019, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, was invited to Japan by Admiral Hiroshi Yamamura. The caption for the photoshoot, posted on social media by Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, was relatively benign, simply stating that “ADM YAMAMURA Hiroshi, Chief of Staff of the Navy, officially invited ADM Nikolay Yevmenov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy. They discussed the current situation and the Japan-Russia defense exchange, promoted mutual understanding.

The photo shoot was more interesting though. This was done in front of a particular portrait, that of Marshal-Admiral Togo Heihachiro, the legendary Japanese admiral who twice destroyed the Russian fleets in battle and sank and captured thirteen of the Imperial Russian battleships between 1904 and 1905. The second battle was near Tsushima, one of the fiercest Russian naval defeats in history, which relegated the Russian Navy to second-tier status, from which it did not recover until after World War II. It would be qualitatively similar to a meeting of British and French admirals under a portrait of Horatio Nelson, or a meeting of British and German admirals under that of JC Tovey, or a Japanese admiral invited to the United States to dine under a statue by William Halsey Jr. or Chester W. Nimitz.

Through no fault of his own, Yevmenov had lived in Tsushima’s shadow like all the Russian admirals before him, until last week. Last Thursday, the Russian flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, Moscow, sank under mysterious circumstances after a suspected attack by Ukrainian coastal missile batteries and a subsequent explosion. As Yevmenov is still the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, his name will now forever be associated with Admirals Zinovy ​​Rozhestvensky and Nikolai Nebogatov, the officers who led the destruction of the Tsar’s fleet in the Battle of Tsushima.

The sinking of the mighty Moscow is a milestone in naval warfare. This is the first loss of a Russian flagship since the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. It is the largest loss of a Russian warship under enemy fire since World War II. This is the first loss of a Russian capital ship since the loss of Marat to German fire. It is currently the largest capital ship lost after World War II in anger since the losses of Belgrano and Sheffield during the Falklands War. It is a big setback for Russia and a major loss of prestige because the loss of the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet of a adversary with essentially no own navy. Words cannot explain how historic this is.

The loss of Moscow also means, among other historical things, that one of the main threats to American aircraft carriers has just disappeared. Russian Slava-class ships (of which two remain, in the Russian Northern and Pacific fleets) are designed to attack carrier battle group escorts, as independent capital ships, much like Scharnhorst or Gneisenau during WWII. Moscow, a ship designed solely to kill aircraft carriers, now sunk by missiles lost in a localized war, her unused armaments lost. One can imagine the desperation the Russian high command is currently facing. What an absolute waste of an asset, which is determined by Forbes to be approximately $750 million.

The news of MoscowThe sinking of was a subject of feverish speculation on social media until Russian official media confirmed it. After all, the story of Snake Island was half trueand the news of the sinking of the Russian patrol boat Bykov turned out to be a fake. It is not safe to trust news from Ukraine or Russia, especially during the fog of war. But confirmation of MoscowThe sinking brings us to more questions than answers. After all, she had three layers of air defenses. Why wasn’t she able to detect and stop two little Neptunes? Why was it so close to shore, when Russian intelligence was unsure whether the Ukrainians were still operating functioning shore batteries? Did it follow a predictable pattern? Moscow had close air defenses that could literally create a wall of flak.

According to a unmanned western official,

One of its key roles was to provide the command and control function through those ships operating in the Black Sea…they should have sufficient capability to continue providing air defense [to] their naval forces.

Does that mean his upgrades weren’t done properly? If so, is it symbolic of all Russian military upgrades? Simply put, was it incompetence, i.e. individual human error, or structural problems, i.e. organizational errors due either to corruption or a sign of some something much more systemic, which led Russia to lose a capital ship?

These questions have serious implications for future Anglo-American naval strategy. After all, in the age of contested multipolarity, most future battlefields are going to be, as always, on the high seas. The fate of a weary old giant like Moscowfacing coastal defense missiles and sinking while trying to provide air defense cover for his flotilla – working under his station, far from what he was supposed to do – would pale in comparison to the sheer carnage that awaits capital ships Chinese and Western in the Indo-Pacific.

Sumantra Maitra is a National Security Fellow at the Center for the National Interest and an early career elected historian at the Royal Historical Society. He can be reached on Twitter at @MrMaitra.

Picture: Reuters.


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