The strange call of the Russian MP to buy the flagship of the Chinese fleet
Sergei Karginov, one of the Duma deputies and spokesman of the Nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, asked Moscow in early January to take back the aircraft carrier from China, which Beijing bought shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Strange as it may seem useless in the context of the war in Ukraine, a request that reminds us of one of the great weaknesses of the Russian navy.
Could the aircraft carrier help Russia regain dominance in Ukraine? While the idea may seem incongruous in the context of a conflict fought almost exclusively on land, it was nevertheless presented to the Duma (the Russian parliament) by Sergei Karginov, a deputy of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party. right tribune Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency reported on January 6.
He asked to buy the Varyag aircraft carrier, which China bought 25 years ago and named the Liaoning. “This boat was supposed to become one of the flagships of the USSR. […] Taking into account the current situation, I suggest that we restore it, name it Zhirinovsky in memory of the founder of the Liberal Democratic Party and make it the main weapon of our fleet in the Black Sea,” said the deputy. site Business Insider, Monday, January 16.
Aircraft carrier, twin, 1001 problems
A strange request, unless an aircraft carrier really belonged to the Black Sea. “It is a type of boat primarily used for projecting naval power in the open sea. And when it’s close to the coast, it would essentially act as a floating target for the Ukrainians,” said Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian military affairs and foreign adviser at the New Lines Institute, an American geopolitical think tank.
It is not even certain that such a boat will reach its final destination, “because, according to the 1936 Montreux Convention, belligerents do not have the right to send warships through the Bosphorus to reach the Black Sea.” Jeff Hawn remembers.
Under these conditions, “I do not think that Moscow will soon turn to Beijing to “restore” the aircraft carrier. On the other hand, Sergey Karginov’s proposal is interesting because it is a new thinly veiled criticism of the government, since the state of the fleet and the lack of an aircraft carrier worthy of the name are considered symptoms of the deteriorating health of “Russia”. Army, – concludes Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian military affairs and an external consultant at the New Lines Institute, an American geopolitical research center.
Russia actually has only one aircraft carrier, which dates back to the 1980s and is in poor condition. Named Kuznetsov, referring to the Soviet Navy admiral of the same name, it has been under repair since 2018 and “it took a long time and actually needs to be completely rebuilt,” says Jeff Hawn.
In fact, the Kuznetsov arrived there after an accident in a floating reservoir where it was kept for repairs after a mission in Syria. “It sank, and at that moment a crane came down on the aircraft carrier and there was a huge hole in the hull,” said Jeff Hawn.
But that’s not all. This aircraft carrier was placed in dry dock for repairs as malfunctions were detected during its exit from Syria. The planes it carried could not rest on the ship after their missions “because the military felt it was too dangerous for the ship. The planes then had to land,” says Jeff Hawn.
Putting the Kuznetsov case back on the table is tantamount to reminding Russian leaders that they don’t have aircraft carriers, a perfect symbol of military power’s ability to “show itself anywhere in the world,” notes Jeff Hawn.
The central part of the Chinese navy
The Chinese ship desired by the Russian MP is historically Kuznetsov’s twin brother. It was still under construction when the Soviet Union collapsed. Even interested in the unfinished aircraft carrier model, Beijing decided to take it back… to Ukraine.
Indeed, almost 80% of all Soviet shipyards were in Ukraine, and Viarag was assembled here. A detail of the story that could complicate possible Sino-Russian negotiations for its capture. Kyiv could have its say…
First of all, “I would be very surprised if China agreed to sell this ship,” says Jeff Hawn. The Viarag, or Liaoning, is “a central part of China’s naval development,” the expert continues.
He actually became what Kuznetsov could have been. The Chinese dismantled it, studied it, then kept only the hull to rebuild a more modern and efficient ship.
Thus, the Liaoning became the model for the “Made in China” aircraft carriers still in use today.
Under such circumstances, it is difficult to imagine Beijing agreeing to part with such a symbol of its naval modernization. But above all, the Liaoning itself is “always used for training,” assures Jeff Hawn. It is on this ship that pilots learn to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, and officers train to command naval intervention forces organized around such a boat.
Therefore, the call to buy this aircraft carrier has everything from the speech of a Russian MP who is caught up in delusions of grandeur. Both about the usefulness of such a ship in the context of the war in Ukraine, and about the ability of Russia to actually restore it.