Russia Reportedly Wants its Cold War Aircraft Carrier Back from China – Even though there is no overt ideological alignment, Beijing and Moscow currently enjoy the best relations since the late 1950s. While China and Russia have no formal alliance, the two countries do have an informal agreement to coordinate diplomatic and economic moves. Yet, as the two authoritarian nations are strengthening political, economic, and military ties, the relationship has become more imbalanced in China’s favor.
Moscow has also become more beholden to Beijing than it was prior to its invasion of Ukraine – and there have even been calls this month that Russia should try to buy back the Soviet aircraft carrier sold by Ukraine to China following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
China’s Soviet Carrier
Launched in November 1988, the unfinished Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier Varyag was transferred to Ukraine in 1992 – but Kyiv was unable to complete the vessel, and sold it to China, where it was termed as a pile of scrap metal.
The official Chinese plan was to convert it into a floating casino.
Instead, Beijing eventually refurbished the vessel as the Shi Lan before it was renamed Liaoning, after its northeastern province. Completed in 2012, the Type 001 allowed the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to begin its first carrier program, leading to the development of the domestically built Type 002 Shandong while last year, China launched a third and even larger carrier, the Type 003 Fujian.
Could Liaoning Return to Russia?
In January, Sergey Karginov, the first deputy chairman of the Committee of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on Development of Far East and Arctic, proposed that Moscow should seek to buy back the carrier for service in the Black Sea.
“After the collapse of the country, Ukraine preferred to sell it in fact for a few bottles of vodka, at the price of scrap metal. Given the current situation, I propose to buy the ship from China, give it the name of the founder of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky and make it the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet,” Karginov, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), told Russian state media on Friday.
Many in the Kremlin would likely like to see the return of the carrier – especially as there are reports this week that Russia’s only carrier, Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, is in such poor condition.
The aircraft cruiser has been in dry dock for repairs since 2017 and has suffered several debacles, including multiple fires – with the most recent one occurring just a few months back.
However, it is unlikely Beijing would be eager to sell the carrier. It was originally classified as a training ship, to allow the PLAN to experiment, train, and gain familiarity with aircraft carrier operations. But following upgrades that were completed in late 2018, Chinese state media announced the ship would shift to a combat role. The Liaoning Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has recently been operating in the East China Sea.
Perhaps, Moscow could turn to New Delhi, which continues to operate the INS Vikramaditya. This modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier was originally built as the Baku for the Soviet Navy. She later served with the Russian Navy as the Admiral Gorshkov before being transferred to India in 2004.
The ship has also suffered from numerous problems, and some experts have suggested that India would likely be happy to get its money back and sell it back to Moscow! Perhaps now is the time to make a deal, especially as the first domestically-built Indian carrier also entered service last year.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.