Russia launches retaliation after the pride of its warships sinks in the Black Sea

Russia has warned it will scale up attacks on Kyiv in apparent retaliation for the sinking of one of its most important warships as explosions again rocked the capital and air raid sirens blared across Ukraine.

Hours after the flagship navy vessel Moskva went under, Kyiv was hit by some of the most powerful blasts heard since Russian forces withdrew from the area two weeks ago.

Russia claims it struck a plant making anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles outside Kyiv while Ukraine reported more attacks on cities in the south of the country.

“The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The guided missile destroyer and pride of Russia’s Black Sea fleet sunk after what Kyiv claims was a Ukrainian missile strike, dealing one of the heaviest blows yet to Moscow’s war effort.

The Moskva was the largest of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea. Photo: AAP

Kyiv says it fired two missiles on the cruiser Moskva and the US has assessed that two Ukrainian missiles were responsible.

Russia did not confirm the missiles, but said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an explosion of ammunition.

Moscow said more than 500 sailors had been evacuated. There was no independent confirmation of the fate of the crew.

The Moskva was by far Russia’s largest vessel in the Black Sea fleet, equipped with guided missiles to attack the shore and shoot down planes, and radar to provide air defence cover for the fleet.

On the first day of the war, February 24, the ship ordered Ukrainian defenders of an island outpost to surrender and they radioed back an obscenity, an event marked on a postage stamp that Kyiv released hours before saying it had struck it.

In an overnight address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy partially quoted that epithet, paying homage to “those who showed that Russian ships can go — only down to the bottom”.

Russia has used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a potential amphibious landing along the coast. Without its flagship, its ability to menace Ukraine from the sea could be crippled.

“If reports of Moskva’s sinking prove true it will be emblematic of Russia’s overall military effort thus far,” tweeted Michael Kofman, an expert on Russia’s military, who called it a “major loss for the Russian navy”.

No warship of such size has been sunk during conflict since Argentina’s General Belgrano, torpedoed by the British in the 1982 Falklands war.

Russia also ramped up its protest against the US supplying weapons to Ukraine and in a diplomatic note warned of “unpredictable consequences” if America continued to provide shipments of arms.

But US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told CCN “nothing will dissuade us from the strategy that we’ve embarked on”.

“If the allegation from the Kremlin is that the US and our partners around the world are providing billions of dollars worth of security assistance to our Ukrainian partners, precisely what our Ukrainian partners have requested, and that our Ukrainian partners are using that very security assistance to extraordinary effects to repel this Russian aggression, well, then we’re guilty as charged.”

In Kyiv, the prospect of returning to some degree of normality was dashed as air raid sirens again rang out.

Kirill Kyrylo, 38, a worker at a car repair shop, said he had seen three blasts hit an industrial building across the street, causing a blaze that was later put out by firefighters.

“The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car,” he said, pointing out the shattered glass of the repair shop and bits of metal that had flown over from the burning building across the street.

The remains of a destroyed Russian convoy in the forest north of Kyiv. Photo: AAP

Russia’s defence ministry also said it had captured the Ilyich steel works in Mariupol, one of the last industrial areas holding out in the besieged eastern city that has seen the war’s heaviest fighting and the worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Ukraine said it had repelled Russian offensives in the town of Popasna and Rubizhne, in an area north of Mariupol. Both reports could not be independently confirmed.

Russia pulled its troops out of northern Ukraine this month after a huge armoured assault on Kyiv was repelled at the outskirts of the capital.

Body count rises

Volunteers load bodies of civilians killed in Bucha onto a truck to be taken to a morgue. Photo: AAP

Ukrainian authorities are continuing to find bodies around Kyiv more than a week after Russian troops retreated from the area leaving evidence of death on the streets.

The Kyiv region police chief Andriy Nebytov said the civilian death count had risen to 900, and more than 350 of the bodies were retrieved from Bucha, the site that has led to accusations of war crimes.

He cited police data indicating 95 per cent died from gunshot wounds.

“Consequently, we understand that under the (Russian) occupation, people were simply executed in the streets,” he said.

“Regretfully, I can say that we have found the bodies of 900 deceased civilians and transferred them to forensic experts.

He added: “There will still be bodies of dead people under the rubble.

“We are finding terrible things: buried and hidden bodies of people who were tortured and shot, and who died as a result of mortar and artillery fire.”

The police chief said utilities workers in Bucha gathered and buried bodies in the Kyiv suburb while it remained under Russian control.

Russia on the brink

Russia may be in debt default because sanctions over the war in Ukraine prevent it making bond payments in US dollars, credit ratings agency Moody’s says.

If Moscow is declared in default, it would mark Russia’s first major default on foreign bonds since the years following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, though the Kremlin says the West is forcing a default by imposing crippling sanctions.

Russia made a payment due on April 4 on two sovereign bonds — maturing in 2022 and 2042 — in roubles rather than the dollars it was mandated to pay under the terms of the securities.

Russia “therefore may be considered a default under Moody’s definition if not cured by 4 May, which is the end of the grace period,” Moody’s said in a statement on Thursday.

“The bond contracts have no provision for repayment in any other currency other than dollars.”

Moody’s said that while some Russian eurobonds issued after 2018 allow payments in roubles under some conditions, those issued before 2018 — such as those maturing in 2022 and 2042 — do not.

“Moody’s view is that investors did not obtain the foreign-currency contractual promise on the payment due date,” Moody’s said.

The Russian finance ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told the Izvestia newspaper earlier this month that if Russia is forced into a default, it will take legal action.

Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was rated as investment grade.

But its sovereign bonds have become a target in what the Kremlin says is an economic war waged by the United States.

As Russia could not and would not borrow right now, a default would be largely symbolic, marking the tumultuous finale to its post-Cold War attempt to integrate into the West’s financial architecture.

While Russia has only $US40 billion in international bonds outstanding across 15 dollar or euro-denominated issues, its corporates have built up vastly more foreign debt.

Russia’s economy is heading for the worst contraction since the years following the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, with soaring inflation and capital flight.

-with AAP

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