Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sad Saga of Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier ‘Symbol of All of Moscow’s Recent Military Efforts,’ Golts Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 24 – The much-covered travails of Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, over the last two years have become “a symbol of all the military efforts of Russia,” according to independent Moscow military analyst Aleksandr Golts (

            In the first stage of this drama, Golts says, Vladimir Putin ordered the Kuznetsov to sail to the Mediterranean off Syria to show the flag. The trip was both unnecessary and a disaster that highlighted just how out of date Russia’s only aircraft carrier was. But after the ship’s return, the situation became even worse.

            It was sent for refitting, put in a floating drydock which promptly sank damaging the ship, and then a few days ago suffered a fire which will require even more work.  According to Kommersant, Golts says, damage from the fire alone amounted to the “fantastic” sum of 95 billion rubles (1.5 billion US dollars).

            Just how absurd that sum is and how absurd Moscow’s approach to the Kuznetsov has become is reflected in the fact that the value of the carrier “in its current state” is no more than 110 billion rubles (1.8 billion US dollars) and that total refitting before the accident and the fire had been set at 65 billion rubles (1 billion US dollars).

            The 95-billion-ruble figure has reportedly outraged the Northern Fleet because it means that it would be more economical to scrap the ship altogether and build a new one than continue on course with its remodeling. But there are three reasons why this figure has been floated and why the refitting however inappropriate will continue.

            First, under Putin, defense spending has been growing at 10 to 15 percent a year, and the military-industrial complex wants to get in on the profits.  Second, as a result of the Kremlin’s efforts, ever less of this spending is public or monitored by anyone.  And third, again thanks to Putin’s efforts, the Russian defense industry is less competitive than in Soviet times.

            All this makes corruption impossible to limit because it encourages defense firms to come up with prices far higher than are justified in order to pocket the different. That is the source of the 95-billion-ruble figure for fixing the Kuznetsov after the fire and that is the reason why nothing will be done to lower it. In fact, it may even increase over time.

            The Kremlin and the defense ministry have an interest in holding down costs, of course, given that neither has unlimited funds. But lying about what is going on, including regular claims that plans for defense procurement have been “overfulfilled” when in fact they have not get in the way of any serious control.

             There have been some attempts to go after the corrupt, Golts says. In 2018, “more than 2800” officials were subject to disciplinary action for not keeping spending in line, and 28 of them even lost their jobs.  But that hardly has exercised any restraining influence on the vast majority of officials let alone defense contractors.

            And the latter have come up with yet another way to hold the government hostage: they have been borrowing money and not paying back more than interest. Should the government restrict their influence, that could threaten the stability of the banking system, something the Kremlin certainly does not want to happen.

            Put in the simplest terms, Golts concludes, the case of the Admiral Kuznetsov shows that Russia’s spending on military equipment is “a gigantic black hole,” equal to a third of the government’s budget but not providing the military with the weapons it needs to meet Putin’s plans.   

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