The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) had 5 classes of aircraft carrier programs. This included Kiev class (Project 1143 Krechyet), Kiev class (modified), Admiral Kuznetsov class, Ulyanovsk class and Project 1153 Orel. The Kiev class carrier names included Kiev, Minsk and Novorossiysk. The modified Kiev Class is called Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Gorshkov (formerly Baku till 1991) which is now serving the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya. The Tbilisi-class or the Admiral Kuznetsov class included Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov and Varyag (formerly Riga). Ulyanovsk class was semi built and Project 1153 Orel remained a design. Only Russian Navy Aircraft carrier which remains in service is Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov.
Now it is difficult to imagine what USSR would have been like in 2021, if Perestroika had not happened. Had the USSR continued to exist, the world would have seen aircraft carriers Tbilisi (Fleet Admiral Kuznetsov), Riga (or Varyag now serving in the Chinese PLA navy as Liaoning) and Ulyanovsk in Soviet Naval service in addition to Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk and Baku. Maybe there could have been additional series of Ulyanovsk class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers or modifications.
The USSR had also built Moskva class Helicopter carriers Moskva and Leningrad. Both have been scrapped.
Why did the USSR need the aircraft carriers?
In those days, the Black Sea was almost completely under the control of the USSR. Bulgaria and Romania were part of the Warsaw Pact, and Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia were part of the USSR. The Black Sea was completely controlled by the fleet and no NATO ships patrolled there. The Turkish fleet was very weak, and did not intrude much. The Caspian Sea was also completely controlled by the USSR fleet. Soviet Navy did not employ any large ships as they were simply not needed there.
The scene was almost the same in the Baltic. The Baltic Sea was an internal sea of the USSR – the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or East Germany and Poland were part of the Warsaw Pact and there were Soviet military bases on their territory. Finland and Sweden could not object to the Soviet presence.
The Soviet Union did not have the required land bases to control the North Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea and parts of the Pacific Ocean. The Soviet Navy required aircraft carriers in addition to heavy cruisers and nuclear submarines to operate in these regions.
So why did Soviet Union want dominance in all these territories? The reason was the USSR wanted to create its own zone of influence and control the resources of the regions. When the USSR broke, all this went to others.
Russia and the Aircraft carriers
As mentioned, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov (Project 11435) or Admiral Kuznetsov is the only aircraft carrier in Russian Navy service but is perennially in refit since 2017 due to recurring accidents. In December 2020, a source from the United Shipbuilding Corporation told TASS that aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is set to undergo sea-trials in 2022. Russia currently has a new project, the Project 23000E Shtorm (Strom), which is proposed to replace Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov. Russia has postponed its new aircraft carrier projects till 2025. The Kyrlov State Research Center is developing the Project 23000E super carrier with a displacement of up to 100,000 tonnes and capable of carrying a group of 80 to 90 aircraft on board. The Nevskoye Design Bureau is also said to be involved in the project.
In May 2019, Tass reported that the research and development work to create the first Russian nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will start in 2023. The 70,000 ton carrier is proposed to be put in service by 2027. The project appears to have been preponed as the Russian Navy had earlier said that an advanced aircraft carrier with a nuclear energy unit is expected by late 2030. The Defense Ministry had noted that the contract to build the aircraft carrier may be signed by late 2025.
The United Shipbuilding Corporation has stated that the Russian Navy has not yet specified the design, but the company continues the work on the research while it awaits clearance.