Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 91

It seems that the glare of media attention has forced China to abandon a covert scheme to obtain an ex-Soviet aircraft carrier from Ukraine for its navy. The ship is the Varyag–a 65,000-ton vessel that was to be the sister-ship of Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Laid down in 1985 at the Black Sea Shipyard in Mikolaiv, Ukraine, it was said to be 70 percent completed when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. The Russian Navy could not afford to pay for the rest of the work. For most of the last decade the ship has essentially been rusting alongside the pier. (Subsequent to this, the Russian Navy gave the name Varyag to a Slava-class cruiser in the Pacific Fleet.) Over the years, Ukraine made several unsuccessful efforts to find a foreign buyer.

Last August, the Ukrainian government decided to try one last time to get rid of it. A tender was issued to sell the ship for scrap or for other nonmilitary purposes. When the bidding closed on March 17, the only bidder was an unknown tourist company in Macao, the Portuguese colony on the Chinese coast that will revert to China next year. The Chong Lot company offered $20 million for the ship–roughly four times the commercial value of the metal in the vessel. The company suggested that it would convert it into a floating hotel or amusement park.

When reporters tried to obtain more information about Chong Lot they found that it listed a fictitious address in Macao on the bid and that its only two shareholders were Chinese citizens resident in Hong Kong but from Shandung, China–the home of China’s Northern Fleet. A number of analysts speculated that the Chinese military were behind the whole transaction. The Chinese embassy in Moscow said that such claims were groundless fabrications. However, the Chinese have made no secret of their interest in acquiring an aircraft carrier. Ukraine has removed most if not all of the military equipment from the ship, but even were the Chinese to dismantle rather than complete the ship they would still pick up valuable aircraft carrier technology in the effort. Certainly the United States, Japan, and the countries of South East Asia would want to keep the Varyag out of Chinese hands. They might get their wish, as the contract deadline of April 17 has come and gone without any further sign of Chong Lot–leaving the Ukrainian shipyard with its 65,000-ton white elephant. (Russian and Western media, March 21-April 29)