Defence Minister A. K. Antony will arrive in Russia on Friday night for the commissioning of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya on Saturday at Sevmash Shipyard, Russia’s nuclear submarine building centre.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and senior government and naval officials of the two countries are also scheduled to attend the ceremony for handing over the former Kiev class carrier (formerly called Admiral Gorshkov) retrofitted and upgraded under Project 114430 at the cost of $2.3 billion.

After almost nine years of negotiations the initial $1.5 billion contract for retrofitting the aircraft carrier and buying 16 MiG-29K, K/UB deck-based fighters was signed in 2004.

In 1998, to break the deadlock, the government of the then Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had offered the aircraft carrier, currently moored in a White Sea naval base in northern Russia for free to India, provided New Delhi paid for its repairs and modernisation.

However, lack of due diligence at the time of initial assessment of work led to whopping cost escalation that stalled its repairs and modernisation.

The aircraft carrier deal had become a major irritant in bilateral relations. By the end of 2007, when it became clear that Russia will not deliver the radically redesigned vessel by 2008 deadline, the relations dipped to an all-time low.

However, the two countries inked an additional agreement under which India agreed to pay a higher price for its refit.

In their private discussions Indian officials conceded that even with the cost escalation, it was a good deal, since a similar vessel would cost not less than double the price in the international market, but nobody makes aircraft carriers for export.

“Almost everything on the Vikramaditya is new,” Chief Delivery Commissioner of Sevmash shipyard, Igor Leonov said.

Talking to PTI on the jetty of the Sevmash, where the 4,500-tonne aircraft carrier was being prepared for the commissioning ceremony, Mr. Leonov said only 40 per cent hull of the vessel was original while rest was absolutely new.

“The Indian Navy, which always maintained its engineers and technicians on the vessel throughout the refit and modernisation process took the right decision to change many aggregates, components and entire cabling, instead of their repairs,” he said.

Mr. Leonov will lead the onboard Russian guaranty team during the Vikramaditya’s almost two-month voyage to its home base on the Western coast of India in Karwar.

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