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Photo of Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in dock
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Russian carrier accident reveals parlous state of infrastructure

Author(s):
Per Anders Johansen

A translation of an article by Norway’s Aftenposten Moscow correspondent Per Anders Johansen @PerAJohansen published on 2 November 2018:

Russia's only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is often presented as the most striking symbol of Russia’s resurgent military power.

In the early hours of Tuesday [1 November 2018], the carrier was damaged in a serious accident while undergoing repairs in Murmansk.

One worker was killed and four hurt in the dramatic accident, which is being seen as a huge scandal in Russia.

The story of everything that went wrong with the carrier in Murmansk shows how there is another side to the Russian military power that is seen as so menacing in the West.

Snow problems

Russia's flagship carrier Admiral Kuznetsov had been undergoing repairs in recent weeks in the floating dock at Shipyard No 82 in Murmansk. The cost of modernisation has been estimated at 5.1 billion Kroner (nearly £600 million).

Earlier this year aircraft from this ship flew 420 bombing missions in Syria.

Before the weekend, the year’s first snow fell on Murmansk. The only thing unusual about that is that it normally comes much sooner.

Snow, ice and sleet resulted in the collapse of several power lines. From Friday to Monday, parts of Murmansk were without electricity for long periods. Complaints came in from citizens across the whole region.

The interruption in the electricity supply caused the pumps on the 350-meter-long and 67-meter-high dry dock to stop functioning, according to the newspaper Moskovskiy Komsomolets and several other sources in Murmansk. At midnight the alarm sounded. Seawater was pouring in to the ballast tanks.

A total of 70 workers needed to be evacuated. Four were injured and one died.

When the dock sank into the sea, one of its two cranes, which weigh 70 tonnes, fell on the carrier. The ship was damaged in several places, including by a five-by-four-metre hole above the waterline.

By 0240 the workers had managed to tow the carrier clear of the sinking dock.

Winter trouble

The accident involving Russia’s flagship happens at the same time as 50,000 NATO troops and 60 ships are taking part in one of the alliance’s largest exercises in North Norway.

“A laughable fiasco” Russian media wrote last year when American troops had a very tough encounter with Norwegian winter conditions. There was also mockery when Dutch soldiers forgot to bring winter clothing to Trident Juncture. Now the discussion among Russians is why their only aircraft carrier could run into trouble because of a snowfall.

Lack of readiness in the north

This is the 14th and so far most serious accident which has hit Russia’s flagship. The ship has previously lost several aircraft and helicopters, its engines have failed, and at times it has only been able to travel so slowly that it needed to be towed.

This is all caused by a series of systemic problems in the defence industry, concludes the newspaper Rosbalt, which says it indicates how dilapidated Russia still is. The dilapidation is particularly apparent when there is a need for especially complicated systems, the paper says, referring to similar problems in the aerospace industry.

Former employees claimed in an interview with the BBC Russian Service that the shipyard was saving money by switching off the diesel-driven generators and using grid electricity instead.

The nearly 40 year old floating dock was supplied by Gøtaverken of Gothenburg in 1980 and was in poor condition.

Admiral Kuznetsov was built in 1985.

The director of the shipyard admitted to TASS that the floating dock was not in good condition. Novaya Gazeta asks how can the security of such strategically important facilities be so weak that they cannot withstand an ordinary snowstorm?

The accident means that the largest war ships and submarines in The Northen Fleet must now travel all the way to the Pacific or shipyards in East Asia for repairs or maintenance.

This now threatens the combat effectiveness of the Northen fleet, according to the newspaper Vedomosti.

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