VLADIMIR PUTIN’S FLAGSHIP WITH 500 ON BOARD HAS SUNK

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Russia’s Black Sea fleet flagship the Moskva, built in the Soviet era, has sunk following a fire which Ukraine claims was caused after it was hit with a missile

Russia’s flagship missile cruise ship with 500 on board has sunk, Moscow has admitted.

The Kremlin’s defence ministry said Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, sank as it was towed back to port in stormy weather following an explosion and fire.

The Soviet-era ship had been badly damaged by the fire, which Ukraine said was a result of its missile strike.

The ministry had previously said the warship was evacuated after an explosion of ammunition aboard, as desperate attempts were made to put the fire out.

The Soviet-era missile cruiser, is believed to have been heading to Sevastopol when it sunk.

A US official said prior to the latest development: “Our assessment is that she still appears to be battling a fire on board.”

Moscow is yet to acknowledge that the ship was attacked, rather that the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Ukraine’s southern military command said it hit the warship with a Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship missile and that it had started to sink.

The US has said it does not have enough information to determine whether the ship was hit by a missile.

“We don’t have the capacity at this point to independently verify that but certainly, the way this unfolded, it’s a big blow to Russia,” said national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

The Moslva’s loss is another hit to Russia’s stuttering campaign – on the 50th day of its war in Ukraine – as it readies for a new assault in the eastern Donbas region that is likely to define the conflict’s outcome.

Russian forces have pulled back from some northern parts of Ukraine after suffering heavy losses and failing to take the capital Kyiv.

Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow is redeploying for a new offensive.

“Russian forces are increasing their activities on the southern and eastern fronts, attempting to avenge their defeats,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Wednesday night video address.

Russia’s navy has fired cruise missiles into Ukraine and its Black Sea activities are crucial to supporting land operations in the south of the country, where it is battling to seize full control of the port of Mariupol after weeks of bombardment.

Russian news agencies said the Moskva, commissioned in 1983, was armed with 16 anti-ship Vulkan cruise missiles with a range of at least 700 km (440 miles).

Kyiv says the Moskva featured in one of the landmark early exchanges of the war, when Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island, a small outcrop in the Black Sea, told the ship to “Go fuck yourself” after it demanded they surrender.

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