The crew of a Russian Navy missile cruiser that led the famous attack on Snake Island in the Black Sea at the start of the invasion of Ukraine has ditched the vessel, which later sunk.

At least one Ukrainian official claimed Wednesday that the defending military blasted the flagship vessel Moskva with missiles, though Russia later only publicly conceded damage due to a fire while announcing the crew had abandoned ship.

"As a result of a fire, ammunition detonated" aboard the cruiser, leading the crew to evacuate the "seriously damaged" ship, said the Russian Defense Ministry, according to an English translation of a Russian state-run TASS report. The ministry also said the cause of the fire is under investigation. "Moskva" translates to Moscow, the capital of Russia.

Earlier in the day, Odesa Gov. Maksym Marchenko claimed Ukrainian military forces hit the warship.


"Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship. Glory to Ukraine!" he said in a post to Telegram.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said "a surprise happened with the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet" and that "it burns strongly. Right now. And with this stormy sea, it is unknown whether they will be able to receive help. There are 510 crew members," according to a YouTube video reported by Agence France-Presse.

Ukraine developed the Neptune medium-range cruise missiles, which are primarily designed to attack warships. The weapons have been manufactured to fly from truck-mounted launchers and have an estimated range of 200 miles, the Wall Street Journal reported in February.

The ship "remains afloat," the Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN on Thursday that the United States is aware of at least one "fairly major" explosion that caused "extensive damage" to the ship about 60 miles south of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa, but he could not confirm whether the cruiser was hit by missiles. The U.S. assessed that the ship is heading toward the east, probably to Sevastopol in Crimea, for repairs.

However, in a statement later on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said the ship had sunk in a storm.

"During the towing of the Moskva cruiser to the port of destination, the ship lost its stability due to damage to the hull received during the fire from the detonation of ammunition. In the conditions of stormy seas, the ship sank," the military department said, according to an English translation of a TASS report.

How many, if any, crew members of the Moskva were injured or killed was not clear.

CNN reporter Fred Pleitgen said the damaged warship, which he described as "very powerful" and one "the Russians have spent a lot of money upgrading," is a significant setback for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

"This is a huge blow to the Russian Navy, to the Russian military, in this campaign here against Ukraine," he told CNN's Jake Tapper. "Obviously, their Black Sea fleet flagship having been hit by a country that actually currently doesn't operate a navy in this conflict — so, you know, this is a big admission for the Russians to make, and they're not coming forward with all the details."

Moskva was commissioned into the Soviet Navy in the early 1980s — it was named Slava then, which translates to "glory" — and received its current moniker in the mid-1990s, according to TASS, which noted its main strike armament is P-1000 Vulkan missile launchers.

Moskva is one of three Slava-class guided-missile cruisers, according to USNI News. Moskva is also reportedly the warship that led the attack on the defenders of Snake Island on the first day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February.

According to early accounts, 13 Ukrainian border guards on Snake Island, also known as Zmiinyi Island, were reported to have perished after one told an imposing Russian warship to "go f*** yourself" when they were instructed to lay down their weapons and surrender. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the 13 guards believed to have died as heroes, saying they would be "awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously.”


However, after Russia claimed that a garrison at the outpost had voluntarily surrendered to its forces, the Ukrainian Navy said the defenders were "alive and well." Roman Hrybov has been identified as the border guard who cursed out the Russian warship. He apparently was released in a prisoner exchange and then awarded a medal.

A patrol corvette, the Vasily Bykov, which was also part of the Snake Island takeover, was previously believed to have been destroyed, Ukrainian military sources told London-based newspaper the Times in late March. However, that ship was later spotted undamaged in Crimea.