The Soviet Union had 9 Aircraft carriers: what happened to them?

The Soviet Union attempted to build nine aircraft carriers during the Cold War, but only one is still used today. This article will provide insight into the history and status of the remaining eight Soviet carriers.

The Soviet Union’s Aircraft Carrier Ambitions

Following World War II, the Soviet Navy recognized the significance of aircraft carriers in their rivalry with the United States. They started constructing carriers to enhance their navy and global standing. This highlighted the growing importance of naval power in the post-war era and the Soviet Union’s resolve to maintain its status as a superpower.

The MOSKVA class carrier 

In 1962, the Soviet Union completed its first aircraft carrier, the MOSKVA -class carrier class, which set sail in 1965. The “Leningrad” soon followed. Unfortunately, both carriers had design flaws. After the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia inherited the ships but lacked the funds for the necessary upgrades. Eventually, India and Greece became the new owners of these carriers, which were later dismantled for scrap.

The Emergence of the Kiev-Class Aircraft Carriers

Kiev-Class Aircraft Carrier

The Soviet Union designed the “Kiev”-class to create more capable carriers, departing significantly from the earlier Moscow class in design and functionality. Four Kiev-class carriers were constructed, each with its unique history.

The Fate of the Kiev-Class Aircraft Carriers

It’s unfortunate to acknowledge that the Kiev-class carriers were met with an uncertain future. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, three of them were abandoned as attention shifted to maintaining Admiral Gorshkov.

Kiev-class aircraft carrier

 In 1995, during a period of economic turmoil in Russia, South Korea purchased the Minsk and Novorossi for scrap. Russia had imposed a condition that these carriers would not be used for military purposes, but South Korea still researched them. 

minsk class carrier

Daewoo’s financial issues caused Minsk to be sold to China, where it was transformed into a military theme park. The Novorossi, on the other hand, was dismantled into steel plates and met with a tragic end. The last Kiev-class carrier, the “Kiev” itself, was bought by China in 2000 and was also converted into an aircraft carrier-themed park, similar to the Minsk.

Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk-min

The Last Soviet Aircraft Carriers: Admiral Gorshkov, Varyag, and Ulyanovsk

The Soviet carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, was set to retire after an accident in 1994. India took advantage of the situation and bought it for just one dollar. However, the seemingly good deal came with a catch – the costly repair bill of $3.5 billion.

The last two Soviet carriers, Varyag and Ulyanovsk, were never finished. Varyag ended up in Ukraine but was left unused due to a lack of resources for its reconstruction. It was eventually sold to China, which resulted in the creation of the Liaoning Aircraft Carrier.

Regarding the Ulyanovsk, it was only 40% complete when the Soviet Union collapsed. Since there were no feasible restoration options, a U.S. steel company purchased it at a high cost. However, after disassembling it, the carrier mysteriously disappeared from sight.

The Legacy of Soviet Aircraft Carriers

The story of the Soviet Union’s aircraft carriers, from beginning to end, is a sad reflection of the country’s rise and fall. Eight of these carriers are now relics of the past, with some being used for tourism and others being forgotten. Russia only has one working aircraft carrier, which marks the end of a difficult and ambitious time in naval history.

A Glimpse into the Future

Russia’s naval power projection capabilities have considerably reduced as they now only have one active aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is often non-operational due to maintenance issues. This brings up concerns about the future of Russian naval strategy.

China has made significant progress in developing aircraft carriers, with the Liaoning (formerly known as the Varyag) currently being used as a training platform for the Chinese Navy.

 China is also in the process of developing more indigenous carriers. This demonstrates the strategic importance of aircraft carriers in modern naval warfare, especially in light of China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and other regions.

The Global Aircraft Carrier Landscape

Other nations have entered the aircraft carrier arena, with India’s INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant in active service.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy commissioned the HMS Queen Elizabeth, showcasing the continued relevance of carriers on the global stage.

HMS Queen Elizabeth


The tale of the Soviet Union’s aircraft carriers is a testament to the intricate dynamics of naval power. Although these carriers are no longer in active service, their impact on naval history remains. As the world’s aircraft carrier landscape continues to change, Russia is confronted with the challenge of preserving its naval might, while other nations rise to prominence in this vital aspect of modern warfare.