Will Russia buy the aging, semi-finished Slava-class CG Ukraina? Probably not, unless the price is really right, i.e. basically zero. It’s unlikely Russia will pay Ukraine to complete the cruiser because Russian shipyards have suggested towing it to Russia, refurbishing, and updating there.
The questions are compelling only because of a recent video, varying reports about the ship and a possible deal, and what this all says about Moscow’s military procurement.
Nevertheless, according to recent ITAR-TASS, Ukraine’s Defense Minister is optimistic Kyiv and Moscow will finish Ukraina together. And he claims the ship is 95 percent complete.
By way of review, Ukraina is a 1970s- or 1980s-vintage design being constructed as Fleet Admiral Lobov at Nikolayev’s [Mykolayiv’s] 61 Communards Shipbuilding Plant when the USSR collapsed. Kyiv failed to find a foreign buyer for the ship, and reportedly spends $1 million every year maintaining it. So that doesn’t mean a plethora of options or a very strong negotiating position for the Ukrainian side.
Talk of Russia buying Ukraina peaked last year in the wake of the base agreement extension between Moscow and Kyiv. News outlets noted that the acting chief of the Russian Navy’s Technical Directorate inspected the cruiser and declared it 50 percent ready. He said Ukraina would need 15 billion rubles for repairs and 35 billion for modernization — $1.7 billion in all. The Navy’s 50 percent sounds a lot more like the 70 or 75 percent we’ve been hearing for many years than the Ukrainian Defense Minister’s 95 percent.
Reported pricetags for Ukraina, in its current shape, start at $70 or $80 million and run to ridiculous numbers. In January, Argumenti.ru reported the Russian Defense Ministry would not pay scrap metal prices for Ukraina, but commented that Moscow would accept the ship as a gift.
Then there’s also the issue of whether the Russian Navy really needs it. It’s an issue often forgotten in procurement debates. Granted Ukraina is a something of a special case. But it should also be a pretty easy decision.
Novyy region quoted a couple opinions last May. Former Black Sea Fleet Commander Vladimir Komoyedov said:
“The ship hasn’t aged 15-20 years yet according to its capabilities. However, it needs, of course, to be deployed in the ocean, in open theaters, and not in the Black Sea, not in the Baltic — there just isn’t sufficient space for it there. The ships [Slava-class] are very good, not at all badly designed. It can’t be said this cruiser belongs just to Ukraine alone. Ukraine’s share of it, as far as I remember, is 17, a maximum of 20 percent. Therefore the question’s about the purchase not of a full ship, but of a share — all the rest belongs to Russia. The purchase issue has stood for a long time, and it needs to be resolved once and for all. If such a decision is made, it’ll be the right one. It’s better than the tin can Mistral by a factor of two.”
Defense analyst Aleksandr Khramchikhin, on the other hand, said:
“It’s very hard to understand who needs this ship now. Undoubtedly, for our fleet which is shrinking into nothing, now such a cruiser has already become pointless. We have to begin, so to speak, from below, and not from above, not with cruisers, but with frigates at least. Moreover, these cruisers have a very narrow anti-aircraft carrier mission. They were built exclusively for war with American carrier battle groups. It doesn’t seem to me that this mission is all that acute for us now. Therefore, it’s hard for me to comprehend why we need this ship, and where to put it if it is finished.”
All that said, the Russians might buy Ukraina anyway. If they do, it’ll indicate a new State Program of Armaments gone awry in its first year.