China’s Strange Soviet Love Affair

Kiev, lead ship of the class, while in Soviet service

The dissolution of the Soviet Union led to a number of uncomfortable questions, one of which involved the fate of the Soviet Navy; Russia alone, being one part of the whole that was the USSR, couldn’t take all of the ex-navy’s ships, nor could the Ukraine nor the Baltic states. Even if any of them could, it was more of an economic matter than strictly political, because a modern navy is very expensive to maintain.

Caught in the middle of this were four relatively old Soviet aircraft carriers/aviation cruisers: Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk and Baku.

Novorossiysk was soon to be sold for scrapping; she had been stricken by an engine fire, and it was decided that she was worth more as a hulk than as a functional warship.

Baku, technically a half-sister to the others, was kept in service after some necessary repairs due to a boiler room explosion. However, the costs of keeping her afloat were outweighed by the fact that Russia already had a nicer, more modern aircraft carrier in the Kuznetsov, commissioned just before the breakup of the Soviet Union. So, she was mothballed and offered for sale, but wouldn’t really go anywhere for a number of years. I’ll come back to her in a bit, but don’t worry: she has a happy ending.

Kiev and Minsk had no place in the post-Soviet Russian navy, and so they were offered up for sale. In almost any other circumstances – just look at the fate of Novorossiysk – they would’ve been sold to the breakers for whatever their scrap was deemed to be worth. These two sister, however, had an altogether more bizarre chapter laying ahead of them. In 1995 and 1996, respectively, an assortment of Chinese and South Korean companies bought Minsk and Kiev, and few people could have expected what exactly would be done with them.

Novorossiysk during her time in Soviet service; so far, the only member of her class of ships to be scrapped.

Shenzhen Minsk Aircraft Carrier Industry Company Limited, an apparently very specifically named company based, of course, in Shenzhen, acquired Minsk and began making her into a grand theme park: MINSK WORLD.

Not long after, Kiev was bought by Binhai Aircraft Park, based in Tianjin, and this company had very similar goals. MINSK WORLD opened in 2000, and the Kiev theme park in 2004; both were more or less the same in concept, being strange theme parks built around faux-Russian attractions and shows, with the centrepiece being the great big Soviet aircraft carriers. What exactly led to this bizarre rush of incredibly specific purchases by Chinese companies, perhaps no one can exactly be sure, but considering that two great warships were saved from the breakers I certainly am not complaining.

From reviews on TripAdvisor, it seems like Binhai Aircraft Park really is some fantastically weird theme park, rather on the gaudy, tacky side, but also with a semi-museum ship as a big attraction. A bit off-putting for someone used to traditional naval museums, which are more on the – for lack of a better word – respectful or tasteful side, being proper museums, but hey, two aircraft carriers were preserved.

Unfortunately, the company running MINSK WORLD went bankrupt in 2006, and the theme park was bought by CITIC Shenzhen, which ran the park until earlier this year, when it was closed. No worries, though: Minsk will just be moving to Nanton sometime in the near future, where she will be the main attraction at yet another theme park.

Binhai Aircraft Park opened Kiev to the public in 2004, and to my knowledge she’s still kicking and doing well enough, the theme park being still open to the public for the foreseeable future. In fact, Kiev herself is apparently a luxury hotel now, having finished some very expensive renovations in 2011.

So, if you’re ever in Tianjin, stop by the Kiev and check her out! Even if the theme park is rubbish, I’m sure the ship is a real sight to see.

Kiev on a rather muggy day at her moorings. She’s still perfectly intact just as the Soviets left her, and you can even see the red star on her bow.

Now, what about Baku? As I mentioned, she was also put up for sale (but first renamed Admiral Gorshkov), and eventually the Indian Navy decided they wanted to have her and rebuild her. Considering she was the newest of the Kiev class, this was perfectly feasible, and so she was docked for reconstructions and repairs, though the whole negotiation process took a number of years in itself. The price paid for her was $2.3 billion, in the end, and finally in 2013 she was recommissioned as INS Vikramaditya. She is based out of Karwar, 45,000 tons of fighting steel, still a proud warship now and likely for a good long while to come as well.

Ex-Baku, centre, being escorted by the fleet, including INS Viraat. A picture from just this year!



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