President Vladimir Putin was already facing embarrassment when the 80,000-ton dock in Murmansk sank, damaging Russia’s only aircraft carrier. Flagship, Admiral Kuznetsov was hit by a 70-ton crane and left with a 20-metre gash. The collapse will also affect plans to modernise Russia’s mighty Northern Fleet.
The planned refit of nuclear-powered anti-air missile launcher Pyotr Velikiy is now on hold.
Most significant, though, is the knock-on effect on its submarines.
According to satellite imagery Northern Fleet submarines used the dock more than any other type of vessel.
“The Admiral Kuznetsov was undergoing a long-term refit but this is essentially a vanity project for Putin, and he is essentially out of the aircraft carrier club for the foreseeable future,” said Dr Rod Thornton of King’s College London Defence Studies department.
“The Russian ballistic missile fleet is the only really hard edge to the Russian Navy, and the Northern Fleet contains most of them.
Though Russia has been doing remarkable things with its submarines considering its lack of financial resources, they are not built to last, and have to undergo continuous refits. This means access to dock facilities is vital.”
The dock was built in Sweden in the 1980s, but sanctions mean Russia can no longer turn to the Swedes for help in repairing it.
Admiral Roger Lane-Knott, who commanded the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Splendid during the Falklands War, added: “These problems are likely to affect Russia for at least the next two years. It is a massive issue for Putin’s maritime ambitions.”