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Russian warship told to ‘go fuck yourself’ limping to port after an explosion

The Russian cruiser Moskva has gone from the “fuck around” to the “find out” phase of combat operations.

In February, a Ukrainian service member defending Snake Island in the Black Sea famously rebuffed a surrender demand from the Moskva by replying, “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

It didn’t take long for karma to strike. On Wednesday evening, the Moskva was rocked by a large explosion. Ukrainian forces claimed to have struck the cruiser with two Neptune anti-ship missiles, but the Russian defense ministry counter claims that a fire broke out aboard the vessel after ammunition exploded. Task & Purpose has been unable to verify either government’s claims.

It is unclear if any of the roughly 500 sailors aboard the Moskva were injured or killed in the explosion. Russia’s defense ministry claimed that the ship’s crew had been evacuated.

Rumors that the ship had capsized and sunk turned out to be false. A senior defense official told reporters on Thursday that damage to the ship is extensive and the crew is still battling a “significant” fire.

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The Moskva is likely headed to the Russian naval base of Sevastopol for repairs, the official said during a Pentagon news briefing. As of Thursday morning, the Moskva was under its own power, but the Russians may have taken the vessel under tow since then.

Russian warship told to ‘go fuck yourself’ was either fucked by Ukraine or by itself
In this photo taken on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 and provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian navy missile cruiser Moskva is on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea near the Syrian coast. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

The U.S. military cannot definitively say whether the Moskva was hit by missiles or if the explosion aboard the ship was caused by a fire, the senior defense official said. At the time of the blast, the vessel was about 60 nautical miles South of Odessa, and that is in range of Ukraine’s Neptune missiles. But like all surface combatants, the Moskva has plenty of combustible materials onboard.

“What we can see, what we can know, what we can independently verify doesn’t give me — as a former naval officer myself — the confidence to say that this absolutely has to be the result of a missile,” the senior defense official said. “It very well could be. But from what I’ve seen, we’re just not ready to make such a definitive call.”

“It certainly appears from what we have been able to see that the fire aboard her is extensive — it’s big,” the official continued. “It’s not a small fire. But that a fire is big doesn’t necessarily mean that it was caused by a particular munition. These ships have flammable and explosive material on board that can exacerbate even a small source of an explosion or fire.”

As the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva is armed with sophisticated sensors and defenses to protect the ship against enemy aircraft and missiles. It is not clear whether the Ukrainians used Turkish-made drones to distract the Moskva prior to the alleged missile strike.

If the Moskva is damaged beyond repair, it could be the biggest naval loss of any country since the 1982 Falklands War, when a British nuclear submarine sank the Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano — formerly the USS Phoenix. The Argentinians also sank several British ships including the destroyer HMS Sheffield, which was struck by an Exocet anti-ship missile. (As the Sheffield’s crew formed a human chain in the water, they awaited rescue by singing “Always look on the bright side of life,” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.)

Other ships have been severely damaged by anti-ship weapons since then and still survived including the frigate USS Stark, which was struck by two Exocet missiles fired by Iraqi fighter in 1987; the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, which struck an Iranian mine in 1988; and the cruiser USS Princeton and amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli were damaged by sea mines in 1991.

The U.S. Navy’s most significant losses of naval vessels in recent decades have not been connected to combat at all. Both the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard and Los Angeles-class submarine USS Miami were damaged beyond repair by fires while they were in port.

The senior defense official could not not say on Thursday if the Moskva is in danger of sinking due to the damage it has sustained. “We don’t have a damage control report on that ship to that level of specificity,” he said.

In a bit of irony, Thursday marks the 110th anniversary of the British passenger liner RMS Titanic striking an iceberg. A video has already sprung up on Twitter showing the Moskva sailing with the theme song from the movie “Titanic” playing in the background.

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