You’ve probably suspected it from WATM’s coverage of the “Kuznetsov Follies,” but let’s just go out and say it: Russia’s navy is a basket case. A floating disaster of aging, decrepit ships and not that many of them – which is a far cry from what the Soviet Navy was in the Cold War.
To get a sense of how far the Russian Navy has fallen, in 1991, the Soviet Union had seven carriers — two Moskva-class helicopter carriers, four Kiev-class vessels, and one Kuznetsov-class ship, with two more (another Kuznetsov and a nuclear-powered design) under construction.
Today, there’s just the Kuznetsov, with her then-under-construction sister now serving with China, and a highly-remodeled Kiev serving with India.
How did this happen? A big part was the fact that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the ship-building industry collapsed, and the projects that fueled it. Not only that, many of the Soviet Navy’s naval engines were built in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Now, the Ukraine is an independent country, and the two countries aren’t exactly on friendly terms. Russia is reportedly looking to import naval engines from China. Even if that happens, new ships are a long way off.
The other issue is maintenance. It is very telling that ocean-going tugs are a part of every deployment for the Admiral Kuznetsov. Accidents, like the fire that rendered the Kara-class cruiser Kerch useless, are common. Fires have been a particular concern, including one that reportedly damaged a new minesweeper under construction.
Rumors persist that plans to modernize two of the four Kirov-class nuclear-powered battle cruisers were scrapped, and the Admiral Ushakov, formerly the Kirov, has been idle for nearly two decades after an accident. Russia has been developing and building smaller vessels, including the Gorshkov and Grigorovoch classes of frigate and the Karakurt and Derzky classes of corvette. These ships are heavily armed and superior to the American littoral combat ships.
You can see a video below, further explaining how the Russian Navy sank so far from its status as a blue-water threat in the Cold War.