By Neil MacFarquhar
A video released by Russia’s Ministry of Defense purporting to show dozens of uniformed crew members from the missile cruiser Moskva standing in formation, apparently days after the ship sank, did not answer lingering questions about the fate of the vessel and its more than 500 personnel.
The questions reached the point Saturday that even Vladimir Solovyev, a popular prime-time talk-show host whose pronouncements often reflect the Kremlin line, began asking what went wrong.
Solovyev, describing himself as “outraged” over the sinking, then asked a series of rhetorical questions that picked at both versions of how the Black Sea fleet vessel sank overnight Wednesday.
If the ship caught fire before sinking, as the Russians claim, then why did it not have a system to extinguish such blazes, the television host wondered aloud. If the ship was sunk by two Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles, as Ukrainian and unidentified U.S. Defense Department officials have claimed, then why did it lack an anti-missile system?
“Just explain to me how you managed to lose it,” Solovyev said on his Saturday show, not directing the question at anyone in particular.
The segment was unusual not least because Solovyev broached the idea that Ukraine had managed to sink the Moskva, one of the biggest naval losses anywhere in the world since World War II.
Overall, Russian media has stuck to the official version promulgated by the Ministry of Defense and echoed on TASS, a state news agency. That version held that a fire onboard had ignited an ammunition magazine, seriously damaging the Moskva, named for the Russian capital.
After the crew of at least 510 men was evacuated, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, the ship sank in rough seas while being towed back to Sevastopol, the Crimean headquarters of the fleet. Ukraine has said it struck the ship with two missiles and the vessel rapidly sank.
The Russian Ministry of Defense posted a video on its Telegram channel, as well as on the channel of its Zvezda television network, on Saturday, showing Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, the commander of the Russian navy, and other officers meeting with what it said were some Moskva crew members.
The brief clip showed the admiral addressing dozens of sailors, but there was no explanation about the fate of the rest. “The traditions of the missile cruiser Moskva will be carefully preserved and continued in the way it has always been accepted in the navy,” he said, adding that the crew would continue to serve elsewhere.
Social media posts suggested that some of the crew members had died, but the toll is unclear. Videos posted online from an unofficial memorial service at a monument to the 300th anniversary of the Black Sea fleet showed a wreath with a ribbon bearing the inscription “To the ship and sailors.”
Radio Liberty, a U.S. government network based outside Russia, reached the widow of one midshipman who confirmed his death and said that 27 crew members remained missing.