Russian warship Moskva sinks after Ukraine says its missile is responsible
Russia's defence ministry reported an onboard explosion and said over 500 crew aboard the Soviet-era missile cruiser were evacuated
Russia said its lead warship in the Black Sea sank on Thursday after an explosion and fire that Ukraine claimed was caused by a missile strike, dealing a blow to Moscow as it readied for new attacks that were likely to determine the conflict's outcome.
The Moskva, Russia's flagship in its Black Sea fleet, sank as it was being towed to port in stormy weather, Russian news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying.
Russia said earlier that over 500 crew aboard the Soviet-era missile cruiser were evacuated after ammunition on board exploded. Ukraine said it hit the warship with a Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship missile.
Russia, which has not acknowledged an attack, said the incident is under investigation. Reuters was unable to verify any of the statements, including whether the ship had sunk.
"While the cruiser 'Moskva' was being towed to the destination port, the ship lost stability due to damage to the hull from the fire," the defence ministry said.
"In the stormy sea conditions, the ship sank," it said.
The incident came as Russia's navy continues its bombardment of Ukrainian cities on the Black Sea nearly 50 days after it launched the invasion. Residents of Odessa and Mariupol, on the adjacent Azov Sea, have been bracing for new Russian attacks.
The United States said it did not have enough information to determine whether the Moskva was hit by a missile.
"(But) certainly, the way this unfolded, it's a big blow to Russia," said national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
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 in the eastern Donbas region.
Russia launched its assault in part to dissuade Ukraine from joining NATO. But the invasion has pushed Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, and nearby Sweden to consider joining the U.S.-led military alliance.
Moscow warned NATO on Thursday that if Sweden and Finland join, Russia would deploy nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles in a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, in the heart of Europe.
Commenting on Russia's military setbacks, CIA Director William Burns said the threat of Russia potentially using nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly, but that the agency has not seen much practical evidence reinforcing that concern.