A picture of the Russian Navy’s Moskva warship burning before it sank in the Black Sea is genuine, an expert has said.
The first verified images of the damaged cruiser, which show her listing to port with smoke billowing from her midships section, appeared days after Ukraine said it had sunk the ship in a missile attack.
Although the Kremlin has acknowledged the loss of the vessel, it continues to claim the ship was destroyed by an on-board explosion rather than by enemy weapons.
Sidharth Kaushal, a sea power research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), confirmed the latest pictures do show the Moskva gutted by fire.
“I have examined the images and they are of the Moskva,” he told The Independent.
“The placement of the radar – visible in the photo – the canisters for surface to air and surface to surface missiles and the hull form all seem to confirm that they are of a Slava-class cruiser, and thus must be the Moskva.”
Moscow has not commented on the authenticity of the pictures.
While both Ukraine and Russia agree that the Moskva sank, their accounts of how it was destroyed differ.
Ukraine’s Operational Command South claimed on Thursday that the Moskva began to take on water after it was struck by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.
“In the Black Sea operational zone, Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles hit the cruiser Moskvathe flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet – it received significant damage,” the statement said.
“A fire broke out. Other units of the ship’s group tried to help, but a storm and a powerful explosion of ammunition overturned the cruiser and it began to sink.”
Russia, however, claimed that an on-board ammunition store board exploded, causing serious damage to the vessel. This version of events has been rejected by a senior US defense official, citing military intelligence.
It is not known how many Russian sailors on the Moskva died. However, the Novaya Gazeta Europe newspaper has reported that at least 40 people were killed and others are still missing.
The sinking of the crucial warship came as a massive blow to the Russian military, which has been struggling against fierce Ukrainian resistance since its forces invade the country on 24 February .