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Ukrainian Experts Say Kyiv Correct In Selling Carrier To China

The former Ukrainian ship, the "Varyah," which has become China's first aircraft carrier.
The former Ukrainian ship, the "Varyah," which has become China's first aircraft carrier.
KYIV -- Ukrainian military experts say Kyiv had no choice but to sell an unfinished ship to China that has been turned into Beijing's first aircraft carrier, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

The 300-meter-long, Ukrainian-built "Varyah" (in Ukrainian, "Varyag" in Russian) began sea trials on August 10.

The ship was towed from Ukraine's Mykolayiv shipyard in 1998 as an empty shell after a Chinese company paid $20 million for it and pledged to turn it into a casino.

But China instead secretly began modernizing the ship and Chinese officials confirmed this summer it would be the country's first aircraft carrier.

Oleksandr Kuzmuk, Ukrainian defense minister in 1998 and now a parliament member from the ruling Party of Regions, told RFE/RL that "China did what it did; Ukraine has no connection to it."

He said Ukraine should have no regrets regarding the deal it made with the Chinese in selling "Varyah."

Kuzmuk said "Ukraine does not need such a vessel, because our strategic interests do not envision putting such strategic objects in the world's oceans."

He added that Ukraine could not afford to finish building the "Varyah" in 1998 and had to sell it.

Another Ukrainian military expert, retired Navy captain Myroslav Mamchak, suggests Ukraine could have earned even more money with the ship if it had cooperated more closely with China.

"There was a chance to sell 'Varyah' not as [a shell] but as a [nearly finished] vessel," he said.

China says the refurbished ship, which has not yet been renamed, will only be used for research and training purposes. But China's neighbors are concerned about Beijing's naval ambitions amid several territorial disputes in the Asian region.