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Tuesday, February 15, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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End Of A Dream: Russians Mothball 3 Aircraft Carriers -- Announcement Marks New Blow To A Proud Force

AP

MOSCOW - In a humiliating admission, the Russian navy announced yesterday that it is mothballing three of its five aircraft carriers because it can no longer afford to operate them.

One Russian analyst, Sergei Rogov of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada, said the three vessels already were out of service and predicted they would never sail again.

"This is actually the end of a chapter in the history of the Russian navy, in which it tried to challenge the supremacy of the U.S. Navy on the high seas," Rogov said. "This . . . is like an official announcement of the death of this dream."

The carriers to be mothballed are the Kiev from the Northern Fleet and the the Minsk and Novorossiysk from the Pacific Fleet, the navy said. The Kiev was commissioned in 1975, the Minsk in 1978 and the Novorossiysk in 1982.

The carriers are relatively small. Their 620-foot-long flight decks can handle only vertical-takeoff aircraft. Each carries a crew of 1,200.

Russia's once-mighty armed forces have been plagued by money and morale problems since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Several cadets starved to death last year at a Pacific Fleet training base.

The armed forces have been forced to withdraw from former Soviet satellite states and from some former Soviet republics.

The navy was particularly hurt by the loss of shipyards in Ukraine and the unresolved tug-of-war with Ukraine over control of the Black Sea Fleet, considered among the crown jewels of the Soviet navy.

Rogov said the navy has been retiring more than 100 ships every year, with few new vessels coming into service.

The navy also has had to keep its ships and submarines closer to home because of fuel shortages and financial problems.

Russia will be left with only two active aircraft carriers - the nuclear-powered Kuznetsov and the Gorshkov, a sister ship to the three mothballed carriers. Both are in the Northern Fleet.

The U.S. Navy has a dozen aircraft carriers.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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