Key point: Moscow does not have the funds or infrastructure to maintain a carrier fleet.
The Russian navy might decommission its only aircraft without directly replacing the vessel, leaving Moscow’s fleet without any prospect of at-sea air cover for the first time in decades.
Admiral Kuznetsov, the Russian navy’s sole flattop, in October 2018 suffered serious damage at the 82nd Repair Shipyard in Roslyakovo, a northern port city, when the PD-50 dry-dock sank while Kuznetsov was aboard for repairs.
Dry-docks lift ships out of the water, allowing workers to access their lower hulls for deep maintenance.
Swedish-built PD-50 was the only large dry-dock capable of supporting the Russian northern fleet’s largest warships. Russia's other large dry-docks are thousands of miles from the fleet's main northern bases.
Moving the docks, or the ships needing repair, could be prohibitively difficult, expensive and time-consuming. Beside the cost, foreign sanctions complicate the acquisition of a dock similar to PD-50.
Now, according to the newspaper Izvestia, the Kremlin might just decommission Kuznetsov rather than spend the money to acquire a new dry-dock, move an existing dock or the carrier or find some other way of repairing the aging, unreliable and accident-prone flattop.
“Not everyone considers the continuation of repair to be appropriate,” a navy source reportedly told Izvestia. “There are different opinions, including those that boil down to the fact that with this money it is better to build a pair of frigates or a nuclear submarine.”
Even if Kuznetsov can be repaired, the navy most likely strictly will use the carrier as a training ship, a Kremlin source told Belsat, a Belarusian news agency.
PD-50 accidentally sank on Oct. 29, 2018 after an electrical malfunction resulting in pumps overfilling the dock's ballast tanks. Four shipyard workers were hurt.