Russian government-controlled news agency TASS carried this brief item on the 15th of April

Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov has met with the crew of the Moskva missile cruiser and, in particular, promised that the officers, midshipmen and sailors will continue to serve in the Navy, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday.

“Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov and the command of the Black Sea Fleet held a meeting with the crew of the missile cruiser Moskva in Sevastopol,” the statement said. “Yevmenov informed the cruiser crew that the officers, midshipmen and sailors would continue their service in the Navy.”.

There is no mention of how many of the crew survived or the fate of its skipper, Captain 1st Rank Anton Kuprin who is widely believed to be dead.

The Russian Defence Ministry released a carefully scripted and edited video of what remains of the Moskva’s crew showing a couple of shots of what appears to be Captain Kuprin.

 

Is it Faked?

It is certain that Moskva took casualties when she went down, the ship was hit by one or more cruise missiles at night in bad weather and in very cold water.  Given the general state of the Russian military so far, one cannot imagine the training of Russian sailors in damage control is state of the art.  It is also believed that the Moskva does not have a modern fire alarm system on board that automatically feeds information on the fire, and its temperature, and spread to a central fire control system. Pictures of the inside of the Moskva show her interiors spaces are full of plastics and even wood which burns furiously and gives off toxic smoke when lit off.  Additionally, the Moskva stored her main armament, in the form of 16 P-500 Bazalt or P-1000 Vulcan anti-ship cruise missiles, along with 10 torpedoes in exposed launchers and short-range anti-ship missiles all above deck.  This is a very bad idea. On US Navy ships, missiles and bombs are stowed below deck in armored compartments that can be flooded on command to prevent them “cooking off” if the ship is struck or catches fire. These are lessons born of hard experience in combat at sea, where the initial hit to the ship does some damage but the resulting fires reaching magazines can doom both the ship and her crew in minutes if not stopped. For this reason, our own navy pays special attention to using non-flammable paints and materials aboard as well to control the risk of fire and toxic smoke inhalation.

From a naval design standpoint,  the Moskva would be a death trap for her crew if hit and lit on fire with those cruise missiles on deck full of fuel and explosives.

On social media, people seemed quick to accept that these sailors were the actual remnants of the crew, estimated to be about 200-250 persons.  What is more, a couple of brief images of a Captain appearing to be Kuprin were accepted almost instantly as proof that he is still alive.

It’s a bit astonishing to see people so quick to accept his video by the Russian Defence Ministry when they still insist the ship was hit by a missile. If the Kremlin told you the sky was blue, you’d be smarter to go outside and check for yourself before taking their word for it.

While we cannot say for certain that the video is fake, we think it probably is for the following reasons.

First, the video was taken at Sevastopol Naval Base, which we believe is true, but it is also true that it is full of sailors.  It would not be difficult for Russia to round up 200 of its swabbies to stand in formation for the video.  We have no way of knowing that this is the actual crew of the Moskva other than taking the Kremlin’s word for it.

Second, the brief shots of the Captain do show someone with a striking similarity to Captain Kuprin and wearing the correct rank insignia. People looking at the few known photographs of Kuptin say that a mole near his left jaw is the same in an image several years old and in the video.

We would just remind everyone that a facial mole can be reproduced with a makeup pencil in about 5 seconds and should not be considered conclusive in identifying him.

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It is also worth noting that Russia has a rather long history of using Political Decoys, Stalin, Boris Yeltsin, and Putin have all been said to employ them. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for Russia to employ a double for Captain Kuprin in a pinch.

Western media and Ukraine believe Kuprin is dead and is saying so.  Ukraine’s information probably comes from signal intelligence they have obtained themselves or from NATO. Russia could pull off a bit of a coup by showcasing the captain in an interview where he could forward the Kremlin version affirming that there was a fire on the Moskva and talk of the heroic efforts of the crew to put it out and save the ship. He would also be useful to their propaganda efforts by expressing regret for the men he lost without confirming the number.  This is pretty low-hanging fruit in terms of propaganda.

It is believed that the Admiral of the Black Sea Fleet, Igor Osipov has been relieved of command(some claim arrested) and shipped off to Moscow to answer for the loss of the ship.  There is an indication that Osipov personally vouched for the ship’s ability to repel attack by cruise missiles in February. It would be a bit harsh to relieve a fleet admiral for an accidental fire breaking out on one of his ships, but it would not be strange for Russia to relieve the captain of a vessel for this same kind of accident.  The Kremlin will want to blame somebody(it always does) for this and Captain Kuprin would make a good scapegoat whether the ship was hit by a missile or caught fire accidentally.  So, his presence at this gathering of the crew would be off the mark given he is the most likely target of Putin’s wrath over the humiliating loss of the Moskva.  If Admiral Osipov is actually in hot water for certifying the Moskva was mission-ready, so would the skipper of the Moskva for making the admiral think so.  Putin is also going to take heat from the families of the crew and having Captain Kuprin to blame would make sense as well.

Stand by for more when we get it.