The Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva continued burning Thursday but appeared to be headed under its own power to the Crimean port of Sevastapol, a senior Pentagon official said.
The Pentagon, Russia and Ukraine all provided divergent explanations for the fate of the Moskva – named after the Russian capital – after an explosion and fire aboard the vessel Wednesday. Odesa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said on Telegram that Ukrainian forces struck the guided-missile cruiser Moskva with two missiles. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, later said the ship sank, calling it an event of “colossal significance.”
Russia’s Ministry of Defense said ammunition had exploded on Moskva as a result of a fire, according to the state news agency Tass. The ministry said the ship, which usually sails with about 500 officers and crew, was seriously damaged and the crew evacuated.
The ministry also said the fire had been contained and the ship would be towed to port with its guided missile launchers intact.
The Pentagon official, who described intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity, said it was unclear whether a missile or an accident cause the explosion. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it mattered little for Russia whether the ship was hit by a missile or victimized by an unrelated fire.
“They’ve had to kind of choose choose between two stories: One story is that it was just incompetence, and the other was that they came under attack,” Sullivan said. “Neither is a particular the good outcome for them.”
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► President Joe Biden said no decision has been made yet on sending a Cabinet-level U.S. official to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Leaders of several other nations have visited the city in a show of support.
► Russia says Ukrainian airstrikes on the Russian border region of Bryansk damaged several homes and injured civilians. It was the latest in a series of cross-border attack claims by Russian officials.
►Five Ukraine military officers, 17 enlisted soldiers and eight civilians – including one woman – were freed in a prisoner exchange with Russia, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said. “A total of 30 of our citizens are going home today,” she said.
►The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it hopes to help more than 2 million people in Ukraine and neighboring countries, targeting 360,000 people within the first three months. “Longer-term financial assistance will address the needs of affected people as the crisis evolves,” the agency says.
►Ukraine’s bid to qualify for the Word Cup will resume June 1 against Scotland after its playoff semifinal in Glasgow was postponed in March because of the war. A final qualifier will be played June 5 to determine the final European team for the World Cup in Qatar.
►In one of the most crucial battles of the war, Russia said more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops had surrendered in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces have been holding out in pockets of the city. A Ukrainian official denied the claim, which could not be verified.
Flatter, wide-open terrain of east could aid Russian military push
Russia has shipped more helicopters to eastern Ukraine, and the Pentagon anticipates more troops will be deployed there as the invading army turns its attention away from Kyiv and toward the disputed Donbas region, said a senior Pentagon official, who described intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity.
The terrain in eastern Ukraine is flatter and less forested than the northern part of the country where local forces repelled the Russian invasion that began Feb. 24. Russian tanks and armored vehicles that were shredded around Kyiv should be better suited to eastern Ukraine, which the official compared to Kansas.
However, with the spring thaw, muddy ground will hamper mobility there, the official said. Moreover, the Russian logistics, which have failed to supply troops with food, fuel and ammunition, are mostly restricted to existing roads and railroads, the official said.
The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO would force Russia to strengthen its northwestern borders and place nuclear weapons in the region, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday. Medvedev noted on his Telegram channel that the length of Russia’s land border with the NATO alliance would more than double. One of Russia’s explanations for its invasion of Ukraine was concern over possible NATO expansion there.
“Naturally, these borders will have to be strengthened. The grouping of ground forces and air defense will be seriously strengthened, and significant naval forces will be deployed in the waters of the Gulf of Finland,” Medvedev wrote, adding that keeping the region’s non-nuclear status is “out of the question.”
China dismisses US warning on Russia
China said Thursday that it will reject “any pressure or coercion” over its relationship with Russia. A day earlier Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that China and other nations that subvert the West’s sanctions against Russia could face future economic fallout for failing to help end Russia’s “heinous war” in Ukraine.
“Let’s be clear, the unified coalition of sanctioning countries will not be indifferent to actions that undermine the sanctions,” Yellen said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said his nation had “made considerable efforts to de-escalate the situation, defuse the crisis and rebuild peace.” China has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine by strategic partner Russia, or even refer to the conflict as a war. It has abstained or sided with Moscow in votes at the U.N. following the start of the war in February.
President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for almost an hour Wednesday, one day after Zelenskyy praised Biden for accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of “genocide.”
Biden said in a statement that he has authorized an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including weapons and ammunition.
“The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect,” Biden said. “As Russia prepares to intensify its attack in the Donbas region, the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”
Zelenskyy tweeted that he and Biden discussed the new weapons shipment, enhanced sanctions against the Russians and seeking justice for their war crimes. In his nightly address to the nation, Zelenskyy said he’s “sincerely thankful” for the new U.S. military aid.
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Contributing: The Associated Press