The Varyag (Viking) is a Kuznetsov class heavy aviation cruiser. Initially this sister ship was named Riga. It was laid down in 1985 at the Nikolayev shipyard in Ukraine. This aircraft carrier was launched in 1988. After collapse of the Soviet Union construction ceased. Russia handed the hulk to Ukraine. Varyag was finished by 70%, however it had no propulsion, weapons or electronics. Ukrainian government had no funds and reasons to finish this ship.
Varyag was sold in 1998 to Macau-based entertainment company for $20 million. The unfinished hull was to be towed to the Far East where it would be converted into an entertainment complex and casino. The contract with Ukraine prohibited the buyer from using Varyag for military purposes. Though this company appeared to be a front for the Chinese Navy.
Varyag arrived to China in 2002. It was docked in Dalian at the Naval Shipyards and has been stationed there under tight secrecy ever since. It was handed to Chinese Navy for research and restoration. At that time ship was in poor condition and it has been undergoing significant refurbishment work. The restoration was completed in 2006, however as of 2008 no further development on the vessel has been reported. Vessel still lacks weapons, propulsion and electronic systems. Some sources report that China is negotiating with Russia supply of missing components.
The Varyag is capable of operating a mixed air wing of 50 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. In 2006 it was reported that China ordered two Russian Su-33 carrier-based naval fighters for trials and evaluation. Delivery was expected in 2007-2008. There is also an agreed option for anther 12 - 48 of the Su-33s.
Chinese designation of this vessel is unknown. It is one of the most ambitious Chinese naval shipbuilding programmes. Once operational, Varyag could represent a significant shift in the balance of naval power in the area.