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Russian warship damaged in Black Sea, Kremlin raises war tone

Russia's flagship vessel in its Black Sea Fleet was severely damaged with Kyiv claiming its missiles struck the warship Moskva. Moscow denies that, instead saying a fire erupted.

(CN) — The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet suffered major damage Wednesday night in what was seen as a big morale boost for Ukraine, which said one of its missiles struck the warship sitting off the coast of Odessa, claims rejected by the Kremlin.  

Russian acknowledged that the Moskva warship suffered major damage, but it said a fire erupted in a section of the ship where ammunition was stored. Russia said the fire was put out, the ship was still afloat and the crew was evacuated.  

Ukrainian sources, though, claimed that it struck the vessel with a Neptune missile and caused the ship to capsize, as reported by Ukrinform, a Ukrainian state news agency. Ukrainian sources also claimed many sailors aboard the warship were killed.

Regardless, the damage to the Moskva, a missile cruiser, carries symbolic meaning because the warship was at the center of a story that has become a legend for the Ukrainian side in the war.

The day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24, Ukraine began telling the world that a group of soldiers on Snake Island off the coast from Odessa purportedly told the Moskva to “go fuck yourself” when the warship told them to surrender. At the time, Ukraine said the fighters fought bravely and were killed. As it turned out, the soldiers surrendered.   

Nonetheless, the story has entered into Ukraine’s war narrative as emblematic of Ukraine’s fighting spirit and refusal to surrender. Ukraine has even issued a commemorative postal stamp showing a Snake Island soldier giving the Moskva the middle finger.

The damage to the Moskva comes as the war in Ukraine becomes more heated with Russia threatening to strike at command centers in Kyiv if Ukraine launches new attacks on Russian territory. 

On Thursday, Russia alleged Ukrainian rockets struck a Russian village, wounding at least seven civilians, and Ukrainian shells fell on two other Russian locations. Ukraine denied the attacks on Russian territory.   

The Kremlin also lashed out at the United States for promising to send Ukraine heavier weapons and warned it would attack weapons convoys. It also said it was prepared to place nuclear weapons in the Baltic region should Finland and Sweden become NATO members. 

“There can be no more talk of any nuclear-free status for the Baltic – the balance must be restored,” said Dmitry Medvedev a former Russian president who sits on Russia’s security council.    

In Ukraine, Russia is intensifying its bombing of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, causing more death and destruction in a city that holds a lot of strategic importance for Moscow due to its location in northeastern Ukraine. Russia is seeking to seize the eastern regions of Ukraine known as the Donbas, industrialized territories and home to many ethnic Russians, and Kharkiv lies close by.  

A crater is seen following Russian bombing as firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a damaged factory in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, on Thursday, April 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

On Thursday, Ukraine said three people were killed and four wounded by Russian rockets that hit a residential district in Kharkiv and that Russian helicopters attacked the village of Zolochiv northwest of Kharkiv, leaving two children wounded.  

Four people were killed by artillery strikes in a village outside Kharkiv on Wednesday and Russian troops were accused of “terrorizing” people in the Kharkiv area, Ukrinform reported.    

The United Nations human rights agency reports that it has confirmed the deaths of 1,932 civilians in the war and that 2,589 others have been wounded. The agency says the actual number of civilian casualties is much higher but that fighting has prevented them from being recorded.  

Elsewhere on Thursday, fighting continued to rage along the frontlines in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian forces were still holding out inside a steelworks plant in Mariupol. The city is expected to come under Russian control soon and this could free up troops to bolster Russia’s attacks on the Donbas frontline. On Wednesday, Russia claimed that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines surrendered.   

Experts believe an even bloodier phase of the war is approaching because Russia is likely preparing for a major offensive in Donbas. There are an estimated 60,000 or more Ukrainian troops there at risk of being encircled. Russia is trying to amass a much larger force for its attack. 

In launching his invasion, Putin recognized the two regions making up the Donbas – Donetsk and Luhansk – as independent states and seizing territorial control over them might be a minimum the Kremlin is willing to achieve in this war so it can declare victory.  

It would also likely try to maintain control over the occupied areas in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions beyond Donetsk and Luhansk, thereby creating a land corridor between Crimea and the Donbas. It annexed Crimea in 2014 following the overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president during the so-called “Maidan Revolution” that saw Ukraine turn westwards in its political orientation.   

A major offensive may also cause Russia more economic pain. On Thursday, the European Union began drafting a new package of sanctions aimed at Russian oil and natural gas imports. 

“The anticipated intensification of the war will fan debates in the EU on import restrictions on Russian energy sources,” Andrius Tursa, an expert on Eastern European affairs at Teneo, a London-based political risk firm, said in a briefing note. 

It was reported that the EU was looking at a phased ban on Russian energy imports in order to allow Germany and other countries that rely on Russian imports time to adjust.

German business groups have warned of major economic damage if Russian gas is banned, but support for such a massive step is growing across Europe despite soaring inflation.  

Russia provides about 40% of the EU’s energy and it will be extremely difficult to find other sources quickly. But with Russia earning hundreds of millions of dollars each day from energy sales in the EU, cutting off this revenue is viewed as pivotal in efforts to cripple the Kremlin. Russia says it will divert its energy exports to other markets, such as India and China, in the event of an EU embargo.     

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.  

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