Russia said Thursday it evacuated all its crew from the flagship of its Black Sea fleet following an onboard explosion, but Ukraine said it hit the ship in a missile attack.
The Russian defense ministry blamed a fire that detonated ammunition on board the guide-missile Moskva. It said the fire had been contained and the ship remained afloat. The ministry added that the ship’s main weapons were not damaged and that efforts were being made to take the ship back to port.
But the governor of Odesa said Ukraine launched two cruise missiles that struck the ship.
The ship is now headed toward a port in Crimea for repairs, a U.S. Defense Department official said, though it remains uncertain whether it was hit by a Ukrainian missile.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN that “there was an explosion” on the ship, but added, “We’re not quite exactly sure what happened here. We do assess that there was an explosion — at least one explosion on this cruiser — a fairly major one at that, that has caused extensive damage to the ship.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden's national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the vessel was badly damaged on Wednesday as a result of either “incompetence” or a successful attack by the Ukrainians.
“We’ve been in touch with the Ukrainians overnight who said they struck the ship with anti-ship missiles,” Sullivan told an audience at the Economic Club of Washington. “We don’t have the capacity at this point to independently verify that, but certainly the way that this unfolded is a big blow to Russia.”
Meanwhile, as fighting continued in eastern Ukraine on the 50th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow and the West exchanged new verbal taunts.
The White House on Wednesday reinforced Biden’s surprise statement two days ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be committing genocide in Ukraine.
"The president was speaking to what we all see, what he feels is clear as day in terms of the atrocities happening on the ground," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the genocide remark.
"As he also noted [Tuesday], of course there will be a legal process that plays out in the courtroom, but he was speaking to what he sees, has seen on the ground, what we've all seen in terms of the atrocities on the ground."
She added, "Regardless of what you call it, what our objective now is — as evidenced by the enormous package of military assistance we put out today — is to continue to help and assist the Ukrainians in this war, one where we see atrocities happening every single day."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected Biden's description, saying, "We consider this kind of effort to distort the situation unacceptable. This is hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times."
Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the new shipment in an hourlong phone conversation on Wednesday. He later said in a statement, "The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect. The United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself."
Putin on Thursday warned European countries looking to replace energy purchases from Russia that it would be “quite painful for the initiators of such policies.”
The Russian leader said, “Supplies from other countries that could be sent to Europe, primarily from the United States, would cost consumers many times more” and would “affect people’s standard of living and the competitiveness of the European economy.”
The European Union is dependent on Russia for 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil.
Meanwhile, Russia said that if Finland and Sweden revoke their longtime neutral stance between Moscow and the West and join the U.S.-dominated NATO military alliance, it would move nuclear weapons closer to the two Scandinavian countries.
In an hourlong conversation Wednesday, Biden informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of the new U.S. arms shipment.
Later, in a statement, Biden said, “The Ukrainian military has used the weapons we are providing to devastating effect. The United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself.”
New weapons, renewed Russian push
The Pentagon said the new tranche of weaponry includes 500 Javelin missiles, 300 Switchblade drones, 300 armored vehicles, 11 helicopters, chemical, biological and nuclear protective gear and 30,000 sets of body armor and helmets.
The U.S. is also providing an unknown quantity of anti-personnel mines, which are configured to be only manually detonated.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said U.S. defense officials want to deliver this equipment while Russia is regrouping its forces, including helicopters and artillery systems, in Belarus.
"They're not fully up to readiness for this renewed push for they want to put in the Donbas," he said. "We recognize that, and we're taking advantage of every day, every hour to get this stuff there as fast as we can. ... We have a good sense of Russian efforts to resupply and reinforce."
Biden's agreement to send more weapons to Ukraine, along with additional helicopters, came after a video appeal from Zelenskyy.
"Freedom must be armed better than tyranny," the Ukrainian leader said. "Without additional weapons, this will turn into an endless bloodbath that will spread misery, suffering and destruction."
Biden said the Western supply of arms to Ukraine "has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine. We cannot rest now."
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.