Experts Warn Sunken Russian Warship May Have Had Nuclear Weapons

The sinking of Russia’s flagship naval vessel Moskva by Ukrainian forces this week raised fears of a “broken arrow” incident, and military experts warn it might have been carrying nuclear weapons.

Several Ukrainian experts believe the 12,500-ton ship could have been carrying two nuclear warheads. Mykhailo Samus of the Lyiv-based Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies said Thursday that the warheads would have been in a “protected” place on the vessel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a startling escalation just days into his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, ordered Moscow’s nuclear forces put on high alert. This raised the alarming possibility of, either by plan or mistake, the use of nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. U.S. officials, meanwhile, say they do not believe the Moskva was carrying warheads, despite Putin’s alert.

Ukraine’s defenders claimed responsibility for the sinking, saying they used two Neptune anti-ship missiles to sink the ship. U.S. officials support those claims, despite initial Russian assertions that a fire of unknown origin caused munitions to explode. The Neptune missiles that put the Moskva on the bottom of the sea, for the record, are the product of a Kyiv-based manufacturer and not supplied by the U.S. or NATO.

The Kremlin initially reported the Moskva sank while being towed to port in rough seas, but that story has largely faded. Meanwhile, Russian state TV continues breathlessly announcing the advent of World War III, with Putin mouthpiece Olga Skabeyeva proclaiming Moscow is “definitely fighting against NATO infrastructure, if not NATO itself.”

Missile strikes on an arms plant in Kyiv Friday are regarded by both sides as revenge for the Moskva sinking, a curious motivation for the Kremlin if it truly believes the explosion was an accident.

In a remarkable reflection of changes in modern warfare, the sinking of Moskva is the largest wartime loss of a naval ship in 40 years. The British nuclear powered submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano during the Falkland Islands War in 1982.

Whether it’s in the military capabilities of Russian forces or simply their morale, the sinking of the Moskva is another achievement by Ukraine’s valiant defenders. Meanwhile, intelligence officials are carefully watching the Kremlin’s reactions for any signs that the cargo was anything more than conventional weapons.