More than a decade earlier, a penniless Ukraine government had sold the aging carrier at a fire-sale price to a Chinese company pledging to turn it into a floating casino. When it was towed out of the port of Nikolayevsk in 2001, everyone thought it was headed for the gambling haven of Macau. In fact, it was destined to become not only the symbol of China's ambition to dominate the seas around it, but to project power thousands of miles from its coasts.
Sitting in Moscow, Russian president Vladimir Putin knew the truth, and it had to chafe: Here was yet another tangible symbol of the decline of what had been the second-most powerful navy on earth—that of the former Soviet Union. He was determined to reverse that trend. And so he has—most recently by seizing what was left of the Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol.