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The Russian battleship Moskva sinks following a fire, marking a huge blow in the Ukraine conflict.

In the latest defeat of Moscow’s invasion, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea navy, a guided-missile cruiser that became a potential target of Ukrainian defiance in the early days of the war, fell Thursday after being seriously damaged.

Ukrainian officials claimed that their forces fired missiles at the vessel, while Russia acknowledged that there was a fire aboard the Moskva but denied any attack. Officials from the United States and other Western countries were unable to determine what sparked the fire.

The loss of the warship named after Russia’s capital is a catastrophic symbolic defeat for Moscow, which is reorganizing its forces for a new onslaught in eastern Ukraine after retreating from much of the north, including the capital.

The ship sank in a storm while being towed to a port, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. The ship’s flames forced the entire crew to evacuate, according to Russia. The ship normally has 500 sailors on board. The fire had been put out, and the ship will be towed back to port with its missile launchers intact, the company stated later.

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The ship’s removal limits Russia’s potency in the Black Sea, as it was capable of carrying 16 long-range cruise missiles. In a conflict that is already widely regarded as a historic disaster, it is also damage to Russian reputation. Russia’s invasion, now in its eighth week, has stalled due to Ukrainian forces’ resistance, which has been strengthened by guns and other supplies delivered by Western nations.

The Moskva was reputedly the battleship that called on Ukrainian soldiers stationed on Snake Island in the Black Sea to surrender in a standoff during the early days of the war. “Russian ships, go (expletive) yourself,” a soldier said in a widely circulated recording.

Despite the fact that the Associated Press was unable to independently verify the incident, Ukraine and its supporters regard it as a symbol of defiance. It was recently commemorated with the release of a postage stamp in the country.

Russian boasts of successes in the southern port city of Mariupol, where they have been fighting the Ukrainians from the invasion’s early days in some of the war’s toughest fighting — at a horrendous cost to civilians — have been eclipsed by the news of the flagship’s damage.

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Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, stated that 1,026 Ukrainian forces surrendered at a metals facility in the city on Wednesday. The report was refuted by Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, who told Current Time TV that “the war for the seaport is still going on today.”

How many soldiers were still defending Mariupol was unknown.

Russian state media aired footage from Mariupol that showed scores of men dressed in camouflage walking with their hands up and carrying others on stretchers. A white flag was held by one of the men.

Mariupol has seen some of the worst atrocities of the conflict. A dwindling handful of Ukrainian fighters are resisting a Russian siege that has imprisoned over 100,000 residents who are in critical need of food, water, and heat.

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According to the mayor, at then 10,000 residents have died as a result of the siege, with the death toll potentially reaching 20,000. After weeks of attacks and deprivation, he added, bodies were “carpeted through the streets.”

The seizure of Mariupol is crucial for Russia because it will allow its soldiers in the south, which arrived via the occupied Crimean Peninsula, to fully connect with troops in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, and the target of the upcoming onslaught.

According to a senior US defense official, the Russian military is continuing to gather helicopters and other equipment for such an operation, and it would likely deploy more ground combat units “in the coming days.” However, it is still uncertain when Russia will start a larger operation in Donbas.

Since 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea, insurgents backed by Moscow have been fighting Ukraine in the Donbas. Russia has acknowledged the Donbas rebel territories’ independence.

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The fall of the Moskva could cause any new, broad-based onslaught to be postponed.

According to Maksym Marchenko, the governor of the Odesa region, which is located across the Black Sea to the northwest of Sevastopol, the Ukrainians fired two Neptune missiles at the ship, causing “severe damage.”

The ammunition on board detonated as a result of a fire, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, which did not specify what caused the fire. The “primary missile armaments” were not harmed, according to the report. The vessel also featured air-defense missiles and other weaponry in addition to the cruise missiles.

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