Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Donations Sought To Save Battleship

VLADIVOSTOK, Far East -- In a region of unpaid wages, it's hard to imagine citizens eagerly donating money to save a Soviet-era battleship that has faded from its former glory.

But local leaders of the All-Russia Public Movement To Support the Army, Defense Industry and Military Science are putting their faith in the people's patriotism. They are appealing to citizens to chip in and help rebuild the Admiral Lazarev, a mothballed nuclear missile cruiser that sits rusting in Strelok Bay.

"Russia is in danger .... Military industry has suffered a severe blow," the group states in a fund-raising appeal that could have been taken from a World War II poster.

However, the group believes the effort might find a ready audience, as it boasts more than 18,000 formal and informal supporters among the defense workers and retired military people of this Pacific port city, said Yury Maksimenko, one of the movement's leaders.

The movement, which has named itself after late General Lev Rokhlin, won headlines in the summer of 1998 when it protested against joint Pacific Fleet and U.S. Navy maneuvers near Vladivostok. Yet it is hardly a collection of blind patriots: The group sent Maksimenko to defend military journalist Grigory Pasko, who was jailed on treason charges two years ago.

Built in 1983 in Leningrad, the Admiral Lazarev was at first the pride of the Pacific Fleet, but after perestroika it became a burden, sucking up the fleet's dwindling funds for technical maintenance and training for the crew. Now it is rusting in the bay, ready to sink, along with its two nuclear reactors.

"Our patriotism comes out of our souls," Maksimenko said. "We can't watch this destruction any longer."

The battleship has been equipped with dozens of various missile and anti-aircraft complexes, with ranges from 20 kilometers to 700 kilometers. It has two helicopters as well as numerous anti-submarine facilities. Fully staffed, its crew would amount to 600 people. The Admiral Lazarev, formerly called the Mikhail Frunze, was designed to fight aircraft carriers.

The Pacific Fleet expressed mild enthusiasm about the action.

"We are glad that politicians try to help us, and we share their concern. But these people haven't contacted us before," spokesman Alexander Kosolapov said.

Major General Vladimir Boruchenko, chairman of the movement's Primorye division, is running for the State Duma, parliament's lower house. In a region of unpaid workers, he proposes that citizen volunteers would be happy to help repair the cruiser.

Sergei Melnishin, a military reporter for the Daily Vladivostok and a former naval officer, estimated the repair cost at $150 million in a nation whose entire federal budget is $20 billion.

"The whole of Russia wouldn't be able to raise enough money for the ship," he said.