Update(2011ET): Russia has belatedly confirmed that its Moskva warship has suffered significant damage after Ukrainian officials said its forces scored direct missile hits on the ship off Odesa’s coast.
However, the Russian state RIA is seeking to counter the Ukrainian narrative, saying that the Moskva has been “seriously damaged” due to a fire that broke out onboard that detonated ammunition. But there weren’t further details provided, resulting in an emerging consensus among Western observers that likely the ship was indeed struck. The Ukrainians said earlier they struck the vessel with two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles…
Thus like in many other cases in this grinding war, two contrary narratives have quickly emerged…
But while there were reports that over 500 Russian crewmembers could be in immediate danger of sinking, RIA is reporting, “”The crew was completely evacuated. The reasons for the incident are being established”…leaving things still unclear.
The incident suggests things are likely to heat up, also as the US administration has just vowed to ramp up its weapons shipments to Kiev.
Prior footage of a Neptune in action:
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Update(1820ET): Into the late and overnight hours local time Ukrainian sources are claiming a Russian warship is sinking off the Odessa coast after being struck by Ukrainian missiles. Regional media has cited Ukrainian military officials in Odessa, saying:
The Ukrainian military has struck a Russian naval cruiser with two missiles, causing “severe damage” to the warship, an official said late Wednesday.
Maksym Marchenko, head of the Odessa Regional Military Administration, said on Telegram that the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, was hit with two Neptune anti-ship missiles.
There are reportedly over 500 Russian crew members on board, however, the Russian military has not confirmed the incident, nor was their initial confirmation out of high-level Ukrainian defense Ministry officials.
Earlier in an afternoon press briefing, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US believes based on intelligence that Russian troops are suffering “low morale” after immense battlefield losses.
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Update(1417ET): The White House is moving to significantly expand its intelligence sharing with Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal is reporting based on admin officials.
“The Biden administration is moving to significantly expand the intelligence it is providing to Ukraine’s forces so they can target Moscow’s military units in Russian-occupied Donbas and Crimea and potentially take back territory, U.S. officials said,” the report says.
Further, it comes as Biden has said the Pentagon will step up its weapons flow to Kyiv. This was revealed following a phone call with Zelensky on Wednesday, where Biden said he informed the Ukrainian counterpart he’s authorized an additional $800 million in weapons, ammunition, and other security assistance to Ukraine, according to the official readout.
Crucially, the transfer of helicopters was named as part of the new assistance package. Some of these are weapons systems the Pentagon has never given Ukraine before. The section of the readout indicates as follows:
These new capabilities include artillery systems, artillery rounds, and armored personnel carriers. I have also approved the transfer of additional helicopters. In addition, we continue to facilitate the transfer of significant capabilities from our Allies and partners around the world.
The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine. We cannot rest now. As I assured President Zelenskyy, the American people will continue to stand with the brave Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom.
It was previously reported that these would likely be Mi-17 helicopters.
The WSJ report separately comments that the new intelligence guidance has been issued as Russian forces appear poised for a major new assault deeper into the Donbas in the coming days.
Meanwhile, and hugely alarming, the Kremlin has put out the following statement saying that all of this is a recipe for expanding the war:
“We see attempts of sabotage and strikes by Ukrainian troops on objects on the territory of the Russian Federation,” said Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, in a statement. “If such cases continue, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will strike at decision-making centers, including in Kyiv, from which the Russian army has thus far refrained.”
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At a moment the Pentagon has vowed to “speed up” weapons deliveries to Ukraine forces, and after Slovakia announced early this week it is in discussion with NATO allies to provide Kyiv with MiG-29 fighter jets, the Kremlin has repeated its warning that any weapons shipments entering the country will be viewed as “legitimate military targets”.
The renewed warning was issued Wednesday by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who told the TASS news agency that the military stands ready to attack any US or NATO vehicles caught transporting weapons into the conflict.
“We are warning that US-NATO weapons transport across Ukrainian territory will be considered by us as legal military targets,” said Ryabkov, after last month the Kremlin issued a similar warning. But this time the language has been narrowed to specifically put the US and NATO on notice, whereas previously this was left somewhat ambiguous.
He warned further that these attempts to inflict damage on Russian forces will be “harshly suppressed”, explaining that…
“We are making the Americans and other Westerners understand that attempts to slow down our special operation, to inflict maximum damage on Russian contingents and formations of the DPR and LPR (Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics) will be harshly suppressed.”
Ryabkov’s words come days after the Kremlin said ship-fired cruise missiles destroyed S-300 anti-air systems which had been provided by a European country.
“Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Monday Russian Kalibr missiles destroyed on Sunday four S-300 launchers concealed in a hangar on the outskirts of the central-eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, hitting 25 Ukrainian soldiers in the attack,” it was reported Monday based on state sources.
However, Slovakia – which had recently confirmed sending an S-300 system to Kyiv – as well as Ukraine itself denied the Russian claims. Given the apparent delivery of such major systems to Ukraine, it’s likely other European and NATO countries will join with sending heavier and heavier weaponry, also amid reports of Soviet-era tank transfers.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Department of Defense is looking to further ramp up its own shipments to Kyiv: “The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Administration is having weekly meetings of its European Crisis Management Team to review specific requests related to Ukraine,” writes Reuters.
And the report notes things are about t speed up: “To speed up U.S. government approval for sales and transfers of arms produced by American defense contractors, the Pentagon has re-established a team to respond to the increased demand,” according to Reuters.