NATO Should Worry: Putin Wants a Monster ‘Modernized’ Battlecruiser

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Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced on Tuesday that the Admiral Nakhimov nuclear-powered battlecruiser is expected to undergo sea trials by the end of the year.

The news comes as Russia continues to seek full control over the Donbas region of Ukraine, and as the Russian military reportedly still struggles with a shortage of modern equipment and weapons. 

Russian news agency TASS reported on Tuesday that Shoigu made the announcement during a telecom meeting, describing how the ship has been fitted with more modern equipment and missile systems.  

“Performance trials of the ship are projected to take place in late 2023. The ship after commissioning will continue accomplishing missions as part of the Northern Fleet. We will outline measures today that will make it possible to complete the cruiser upgrade by the end of 2024,” Shoigu said. 

Photographs of the Admiral Nakhimov emerged in April last year that show work continuing on the ship at the Sevmash shipyard. A Telegam post showed photographs of the exterior, as well as some shots of workers inside the vessel. 

Photographs have been gradually released over the past few years showing extensive work being performed on the ship, both on the ground and in the water. In 2019, a photograph showed the ship surrounded by scaffolding and on the ground, with the ship returned to the water by August 2020.  

Sea Trials Explained 

A “sea trial” refers to the testing phase of a ship or any other kind of vessel. In this case, the sea trial will see the newly-refurbished Admiral Nakhimov battlecruiser tested in the water to ensure that it is fully operational. 

As the final step in the construction process, the news indicates that the Admiral Nakhimov has undergone all necessary construction, modernization, and refurbishment work, meaning it could be deployed by the Russian Navy very soon.  

Typically, sea trials will test a vessel’s ability to navigate in open waters, to ensure that all equipment functions properly, to make sure that safety features work, and to ensure that it can reach sufficient speeds on a consistent basis.  

Why the Admiral Nakhimov Matters 

The Admiral Nakhimov battle cruiser is the only one of Russia’s nuclear cruisers to be rebuilt after Russia initially announced in 2009 that it would rebuild all three remaining Soviet nuclear cruisers. 

In an interview in September 2009, then-Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Vladimir Popovkin said that Russia was looking to renovate an entire fleet of vessels, including the country’s remaining nuclear-powered Soviet-era cruisers. It was later announced, however, that just two nuclear cruisers – the Admiral Nakhimov of the Pacific Fleet and the Admiral Ushakov of the Northern Fleet would be fully refurbished and modernized.  

Even later, however, plans to refurbish the Admiral Ushakov cruiser were scrapped. It meant the Admiral Nakhimov became the only Russian Soviet-era nuclear cruiser that would be fully modernized and recommissioned, with plans to spend as much as 600 million RUB on the modernization of the vessel. The Admiral Ushakov, which began production in the late 1960s and launched in 1991, instead underwent moderate repairs. The ship’s propulsion systems were damaged in 2018 and underwent some repairs, later returning to service in August of 2021.  

The Admiral Nakhimov, which the Russian Federation just announced will undergo Sea Trials, was first commissioned in 1988. It was widely reported in 2006 that the ship was undergoing some refurbishment at the Sevmash shipyard located In Severodvinsk, but those conflicting reports also said that the ship had remained docked since the late 1990s without any refurbishment or repairs being undertaken at all.

By 2008, Russian officials promised that the ship would undergo substantial repairs, and after years of uncertainty, including stop-and-start refurbishment that later resumed in January 2014, the ship was eventually stripped of all of its old equipment by late 2015.  

As refurbishment and modernization continued, Russia’s then-deputy minister of defense Alexsey Krivoruchko promised that the work was still underway and the vessel would eventually become the “most powerful navy warship” in the world. 

The ship was expected to be fully ready to be commissioned again by 2022, which proved to be yet another missed deadline. The Admiral Nakhimov battlecruiser, however, may soon be ready to be deployed as part of Russia’s Northern Fleet – and in the wake of the loss of Russia’s Moskva guided missile cruiser, which was sunk by Ukrainian forces in April 2022, this week’s announcement is a significant move for the Russian military and government.    

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Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.