Russia has launched an investigation and salvage mission to the recently sunk Russian flagship, the Moskva. The Russian Navy has reportedly sent their 100-year-old salvage ship named the “Kommuna” to recover some of the equipment that may still be functional from the Moskva from under the Black Sea waters. The Kommuna is part of an 8-unit salvage fleet sent to the wreckage.  The Moskva lies about 80 miles off the coast of Crimea in less than 200 feet of water.

According to Ukrainian accounts of the attack, the Moskva, which was recently assigned to its “Special Underwater Operation,” was sunk by two Neptune anti-ship missiles last April 14th. However, the Russians, who have been trying to save face from the incident, have claimed that a “fire” had started on board that resulted in a cook-off due to ammunition that would cripple the Moskva.  She would then be taken under tow and then sink in rough weather.

Short photos and videos of the Moskva being badly damaged and on fire had emerged on social media platforms last week. In these photos, the Russian guided-missile cruiser was seen to have holes and puncture marks on its port side. These holes had large plumes of black smoke rising from the ship. According to military analysts, all photographic and video evidence is consistent with an anti-ship cruise missile attack.

An alleged photo of the Moskva being hit by Neptune missiles (John Konrad V). Source:
An alleged photo of the Moskva being hit by Neptune missiles (John Konrad V/Twitter).

Peskov has denied the authenticity of the videos and photographs, stating that they could not determine if the ship shown in the photos and videos was really the Moskva.

“Yes, we really saw the footage, but we cannot say how authentic and true it is,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. On the other hand, the US also said that it could not verify those images as well but said that “the images themselves comport with what we had assessed to be the damage done to the ship.”

Since then, the Kommuna has been sent from the Crimean Sevastopol military port to investigate the wreckage. The Kommuna (previously known as the Volkhov in 1915), the world’s oldest operational navy ship, often described as a “floating gantry,” is equipped with a Priz-class AS-28 deep-submergence rescue vehicle (DSRV) and can operate up to a depth of 3,300 ft. Built during the time of Tsar Nicholas II, the Kommuna was once designed to carry submarines, but as time passed, the larger submarines became, so the ship became outdated. It remained active despite this, transporting small submarines using its central well.

Submarine expert H I Sutton was one of the first people to report on the Kommuna’s deployment. He said that the Moskva is “likely far too large” to salvage in its entirety, but several parts of the wreck could be recovered. Such elements include missile tubes, sensors, and munitions.

There have also been reports claiming that a portion of the “True Cross” was aboard the sunken warship. The relic is purported to be a wooden fragment of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. As quoted by Russian state media TASS last 2020, Archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Sevastopol District Sergiy Khalyuta said that the Christian relic was carried on the Moskva, which does give the Russians some religious incentive to get to the Moskva.

The warship was also rumored to have nuclear warheads on board for the ship’s P-500/P-100 anti-ship missiles. This would also prompt a recovery mission from the Russians. However, there are no indications that there are indeed nuclear warheads on board, and US intel also does not believe that there are any as well.  The Moskva carried anti-ship cruise missiles as her primary armament, and we wonder ourselves here at SOFREP whether 350 Kiloton yield anti-ship missiles would be of any use tactical or strategic use to Russia in its war against Ukraine.

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The recovery would also give the Russian forces an opportunity to recover their dead if it could be determined that their sailors went down with the Moskva. The Russian military recently acknowledged that one of their sailors died and two dozen more were missing. This development happened as several of the sailors’ families were demanding information about the status of their family members on board the Moskva. They were met with silence for almost two weeks before the Russians finally had to release a statement.

This raises questions regarding the video showing rescued Moskva sailors after the Moskva was sunk. Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov met with what was presented as the crew of the Moskva at Sevastopol Naval Base. It was reported that the Moskva could carry up to 680 sailors at a time. However, the video does not show the number of sailors as anything close to 680. Even if we put a conservative number at 400, it still would not add up. The Russian Defense Ministry claims that there were only 396 sailors on board when it released its statement that one service member was found dead and another 27 were missing. These numbers, as expected from information coming out of the Kremlin, cannot be verified.

In an earlier report, SOFREP Editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts claimed that the video might have been faked as it could be relatively easy to get 200 swabbies from the naval base and just be used for the video. Captain Kuprin Anton Valerievich, who was believed to be dead due to the Moskva incident, was also shown in the video. However, in today’s time of advanced technology and expert makeup work, Kuprin could have been easily reproduced for the sake of a video. Furthermore, it is not out of the question that Russia used a double for Kuprin as they have been known to do so in the past.

It is also widely believed that most of the Moskva’s crew are dead, with the number of casualties believed to be around 450 sailors. While there is no method to verify this number, Ilya Ponomarev, a former member of the Russian state duma who is now fighting for Ukraine, claimed that only 50 crewmembers were rescued.

It should be pointed out that the Kommuna is a Russian naval vessel entering the contested waters of the Black Sea and is a legitimate military target for Ukraine to attack along with the five other vessels sent to “rescue” the sunken ship.  It is not known if Russia and Ukraine have worked out an agreement to allow Kommuna and the rest of the flotilla to carry out their mission without being attacked.