The Russian navy reportedly is trying to salvage sensitive materials from the wreck of the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, which sank in the Black Sea in up to 300 feet of water after Ukrainian forces around the strategic port of Odessa hit her with two Neptune anti-ship missiles on April 13.
According to naval expert H.I. Sutton, the eight-ship salvage flotilla includes the world’s oldest active warship, the Russian auxiliary Kommuna. The 110-year-old Kommuna with her unique double hull carries the deep-diving submersible AS-28.
The 315-foot Kommuna in essence is a floating gantry—a bunch of tall steel arches stretching from one of the twin hulls to the other over the open water. Her main function is to winch things into and out of the water. Submersibles … or pieces of sunken ships.
Raising all of Moskva’s 610-foot hull in one piece is impractical, of course. “That would be an enormous engineering task, to try to bring that ship up to the surface,” an unnamed U.S. Defense Department official told reporters on Monday. “We’ve seen no indication that they have shown any interest in doing that.”
But divers and submersibles can secure smaller items.
It’s unclear what exactly the Russian salvage team might be looking for, but it might include cryptological materials—radios and keys indicating secret codes—as well as any weapons or logs that might be of interest to a foreign power.
There might be bodies, of course. The Kremlin was quick to circulate video of the cruiser’s survivors, but the footage depicted at most a couple hundred of the 500 or so men who likely were aboard Moskva at the time of her sinking.
There was speculation, in the days after Moskva sank, that the cruiser had nuclear warheads in her magazines. The Pentagon official tamped down on the rumor. “We have no indications that there were nuclear weapons on board the Moskva when it went down,” they said.
It’s lucky for the Russian salvage effort that Kommuna sails from Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea. Turkey controls the Bosphorous Strait, the only channel into the Black Sea.
Needless to say, the Turks—who strongly have supported the Ukrainians with supplies of TB-2 armed drones—aren’t letting Russian ships through. The only naval power Moscow can deploy in the Black Sea and the adjacent Sea of Azov … is the naval power it already had deployed prior to widening its war on Ukraine starting in late February.