Moreover, Ukraine is still the exclusive supplier for many of the heavy components, including engines and gears, for Russia’s warships — even the ones Russia builds in its northern shipyard. With the continuing tense stand-off, Kiev recently banned arms sales to Moscow.
Russia’s attempts to revitalize its domestic shipbuilding industry have not gone smoothly. In 2005, India inked a nearly $1-billion deal with Russia for a rebuilt Soviet-era small flattop. Russia’s work on Vikramaditya was so poor, however, that she suffered a near-total breakdown shortly after her purported completion in 2012.
India finally accepted Vikramaditya in 2014 — after the total cost of her refurbishment had nearly tripled to $2.3 billion. If Russia can’t even remodel an existing warship, imagine the difficulties it would face designing and building a big new ship from scratch.
Moscow knows its navy is in trouble. It seized on an extreme solution in 2011 — importing ships, technology and expertise from France. Russia signed a contract for two French Mistral-class helicopter carriers. Each ship costs more than $1 billion.
The plan was for Russian shipyards to help construct the vessels. “The purchase of Mistral shipbuilding technology will help Russia to grasp large-capacity shipbuilding,” Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, chief of the navy at the time. “It is important for construction of ships like the future oceangoing class destroyer and later an aircraft carrier.”
Unsurprisingly, the Russian yards have proved incapable of handling intensive construction. In 2013, the Kremlin asked France to take over the bulk of the work. After Russia annexed Crimea, Paris suspended then ultimately canceled the ship deal.
But even if the deal had gone through, buying two ships from France would have done little to reform Russia’s shipbuilding industry, as Russian workers wouldn’t have been directly involved in building the vessels. Now deprived of the Ukrainian-made parts, Russia’s shipbuilding industry is in even worse shape than it was two years ago.