The sinking of the warship Moskva, the 600-foot, 12,500-tonne flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet — whether due to a Ukrainian missile strike or, as Russia claims, a fire on board — is a serious setback for Russia.


How is it a big victory for Ukraine?

  • The reversal is both military and symbolic, proof that its vessels can no longer operate with impunity, and a damaging blow to morale.
  • On the other hand, it lifts Ukrainian hopes, demonstrating the defenders’ homegrown technological capacity, and exposing a weakness in the Russian navy’s anti-missile defences.
  • It also puts a question mark on Russian plans for an offensive on the city of Odessa through amphibious means.


Russia and the Black Sea

  • The famed water body bound by Ukraine to the north and northwest, Russia and Georgia to the east, Turkey to the south, and Bulgaria and Romania to the west, which links to the Sea of Marmara through the Bosphorus and then to the Aegean through the Dardanelles, has traditionally been Russia’s warm water gateway to Europe.
  • For Russia, the Black Sea is both a stepping stone to the Mediterranean as well as a strategic buffer between NATO and itself. Domination of the Black Sea region is a geostrategic imperative for Moscow, both to project Russian power in the Mediterranean and to secure the economic gateway to key markets in southern Europe.
  • The Black Sea Fleet has a long history, and is considered to have been founded back in 1783. It comprises warships of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and the eastern Mediterranean, and is headquartered at Sevastopol, the major port on the Crimean peninsula.
  • Although Crimea became part of Ukraine after the USSR collapsed, the Russian Navy continued to have its base in Sevastopol as part of an agreement between the two countries. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.


Significance of Black Sea for Russia

While the Black Sea Fleet assists with the defence of southern maritime approaches to Russia, it also allows Moscow to use the Black Sea as a jumping off point into the eastern and central Mediterranean. From Moscow’s perspective, these activities enable its diplomacy and power projection into areas where Russia previously had limited influence, and they retard what Russia believes are US and NATO efforts to destabilise its partners in places like Syria.