What happened to the Russian flagship Moskva?

The Russian missile cruiser Moskva during exercises in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea in February. (Russian Defense Ministry/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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The Moskva, a premier warship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, sank Thursday amid competing claims from Russia and Ukraine about how it met its watery end.

An explosion occurred late Wednesday, when the ship was roughly 75 miles from Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa, a senior U.S. defense official told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon. Odessa’s governor and Ukrainian military officials said the Moskva was hit by a Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missile strike.

The Russian flagship in the Black Sea sustained severe damage and sank on its way back to port Thursday, a major symbolic blow to Moscow as the invasion of Ukraine continued into its eighth week.

Russia says flagship missile cruiser has sunk after explosion off coast of Ukraine

Experts say Ukraine’s claim of a successful strike is more credible than the explanations emerging from Moscow, and the episode has significantly buoyed the morale of Ukrainian forces, who have resisted the Russian invasion for more than 50 days.

Russia’s Defense Ministry warned in an update Friday that it would step up attacks on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, in retaliation for the targeting of Russian territory or assets, while five Russian warships in the northern Black Sea appeared to move south — away from the Ukrainian coastline, according to the Pentagon.

Ukrainians, meanwhile, mocked the ship online and rushed to buy a postage stamp commemorating an earlier incident involving the vessel. The stamp depicts a Ukrainian fighter holding up a middle finger in front of the Russian ship.