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Russian flagship ‘seriously damaged’ as Moscow threatens to strike Kyiv

ODESSA (AFP) – Russia’s Black Sea flagship involved in the naval assault on Ukraine has been “seriously damaged” by an explosion, state media reported yesterday, as Moscow threatened to strike Kyiv’s command centres.

With the war entering its seventh week, United States (US) President Joe Biden announced an USD800-million military aid package for Ukraine that included helicopters and armoured personnel carriers.

And international prosecutors said the conflict has turned Ukraine into a “crime scene”, suggesting that those responsible could one day face prosecution.

It was unclear what caused the explosion on the Moskva missile cruiser, with both sides giving conflicting reports.

Russia’s Defence Ministry was quoted as saying the damage was caused by ammunition detonating “as a result of a fire”, adding that the cause of the blaze was being investigated.

But a spokesman for the Odessa military administration Sergey Bratchuk said on Telegram that “according to available data, the cause of the ‘serious damage’ was ‘Neptune’ domestic cruise missiles”.

The Russian missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. PHOTO: AP

The governor of Odessa also said Ukrainian forces had hit the vessel with missile strikes, while presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said “we don’t understand what happened”.

Moscow’s Black Sea fleet is blockading Mariupol and off the coast of Odessa, and its ships have been used to bombard coastal cities.

The Moskva gained notoriety early in the war when it called on Ukrainian border troops defending the strategic Snake Island to surrender, only to be defiantly refused.

It was previously deployed in the Syria conflict where it served as naval protection for the Russian forces’ Hmeimim airbase.

The crew had been evacuated, the Russian Defence Ministry told state media, but “the ship was seriously damaged”.

Having initially expected to swiftly overcome its neighbour, Russia has faced fierce resistance and now even reprisals in its own territory – leading Moscow on Wednesday to threaten to strike command centres in Kyiv if Ukraine continues to launch attacks on Russian soil.

The warning sparked alarm in Kyiv, which had been experiencing some respite after Russian forces withdrew from the region after failing to secure the capital. It had been believed that Moscow was refocussing its war aims to the south and east of the country, with Ukrainian authorities warning of bloody new clashes to come in the eastern Donbas region.