The sunken Russian warship Moskva, which Ukraine says it destroyed in a missile strike, may have been carrying nukes when it went down, experts warn — as Russian state TV ominously declared that World War III has begun.
Russia suffered a massive blow when the flagship of its Black Sea fleet was targeted Thursday and went down off Sevastopol as it led Moscow’s naval effort in the seven-week conflict.
Now, several Ukrainian experts have raised the possibility that the 12,500-ton Moskva — the largest Russian warship to be sunk during active service since World War II — could have been carrying nuclear weapons.
Mykhailo Samus, deputy director of the Lyiv-based Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, said the Moskva could have been carrying two nuclear warheads, East2West News reported.
However, the expert said they would have been in a “protected place” that would have prevented them from being damaged in the explosion, according to the news outlet.
Still, the fear of the ship’s weaponry comes weeks after defiant Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his country’s nuclear weapons on high alert following the start of the invasion.
The Kremlin’s main mouthpiece, Dmitry Peskov, also warned last month that Russia would use nukes if Putin suspects an “existential threat.”
The downing of its Black Sea flagship has already been described as a huge loss for the invading country.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday he was unable to verify either version, but stressed that the ship’s sinking has dealt a “big blow” to the Russian fleet.
Meanwhile, Andrii Klymenko, editor in chief of Ukraine’s BlackSeaNews portal, called for an urgent international investigation into whether the Moskva was carrying nuclear weapons.
“Friends and experts say that there are two nuclear warheads for cruise missiles on board the Moskva,” he said, according to East2West News.
“Where are these warheads? Where were they when the ammunition exploded? Where is the point on the map, the coordinates?,” Klymenko asked.
Ukraine’s Defense Express online news outlet also cited the possibility that the warship may have sunk with dangerous nuclear warheads.
“The Moskva missile cruiser, which overturned and began to sink after being hit by R-360 Neptune missiles, is a carrier of nuclear weapons,” it said in a report.
“In particular, these are anti-ship missiles P-1000 ‘Vulkan,’ of which the ship has 16 units. Each of them can be equipped with a nuclear warhead with a capacity of 350 (kiloton) or a conventional 500-kg high-explosive cumulative,” it said.
“This information is not a secret at all, because this cruiser is designed to destroy aircraft carrier strike groups. But the main issue is the placement of P-1000 missiles,” the online outlet said.
“That is, are nuclear munitions always on board, or are they loaded only by special order?” it continued.
Defense Express added that the proportions of munitions between conventional and nuclear weapons on Russian warships is classified.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned recently that Moscow “retains a large and varied nuclear capability to threaten the United States and our allies and partners, and we have heard very provocative rhetoric concerning Russia’s nuclear force alert levels from Russian senior leaders.”
Russia sits on the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons — nearly 6,000 warheads — which includes missiles capable of striking the US mainland, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the blast on the Moskva was the result of exploding ammunition and that the resulting damage had caused it to “lose its balance” as it was being towed to port, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Given the choppy seas, the vessel sank,” the Russian state news agency TASS quoted the ministry as saying.
However, Ukraine insists the Moskva had been struck by one of its domestic Neptune cruise missiles.
The ship gained notoriety when Ukrainian troops under attack on the Black Sea’s Snake Island told it to “go f—k yourself.”
The chilling reports emerged as Russia’s state TV declared that World War III has already started.
TV presenter Olga Skabeyeva said in Rossiya 1 that “what it’s escalated into can safely be called World War III,” adding that “now we’re definitely fighting against NATO infrastructure, if not NATO itself. We need to recognize that,” the Mirror reported.
Military commentator Dmitry Drozdenko reportedly said on state-run Channel 1: “In actual fact, a full-scale multi-level war is underway with the collective West. And the West has long been preparing for the war.”
Ukraine estimates that 20,000 Russian troops have been killed since the invasion was launched on Feb. 24, the Kyiv Independent reported Friday.
Russia also has lost 163 planes, 144 helicopters, 756 tanks, 366 cannons and 1,976 armored personnel carriers, among many other military pieces, according to the assessment published by the outlet.
With Post wires