[FOUNTAIN]Russia’s pride, China’s boatThe Russian cruiser Varyag was leaving Jemulpo Harbor, today known as Incheon, when it was surprised and attacked by a Japanese squadron. The battle took place 102 years ago on February 9, 1904, a day before Imperial Japan declared war against Russia.
Among the 557 crew members, 37 were killed and 190 were injured in the battle. However, the Varyag did not surrender. The remaining crew instead chose to scuttle the ship off Pung Island, near Pyeongtaek. The survivors escaped in life rafts. The Russian Navy takes pride in the Varyag’s story of resistance. Russia embellished the defeat as a heroic act of resistance in a battle between two imperialists over the Korean Peninsula.
The Varyag was salvaged and repaired by the Japanese, who used it as a warship until handing it back to Russia in 1916. The ship’s homecoming added a new chapter in its legend, though it was scrapped in 1923.
In fact, “Varyag” is a special word to the Russians. It refers to the group of Vikings who traveled in search of fur and honey and in the 9th century settled in what became Russia. They founded Kievan Rus, the first Russian kingdom. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus trace their origins back to Kievan Rus, and the word “Russia” comes from “Rus.” Indeed, Varyag is a word that makes the hearts of the nationalistic Russians pound.
Following the legendary action in the Yellow Sea, the name became a symbol of the Russian Navy’s honor. The title was handed down to a missile cruiser commissioned in 1965. It was the ship that called at Incheon in 2004 to mark the centennial of the Russo-Japanese War.
The same name was given to a 67,500-ton aircraft carrier that began construction in 1985. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and because of a budget shortage, the aircraft carrier could not be completed. The ship is a symbol of the fall of the Soviet Union, whose economy was completely devastated from an overheated arms race and an unproductive economic management system. The ship was put up for auction in 1998 and sold to a Hong Kong company for $20 million dollars. While the Varyag was supposed to be converted into a floating hotel and casino in Macau, it was found in the Chinese naval port of Dalian. If you use Google Earth, a free satellite image service, and explore the area at 38 degrees 55 minutes of north latitude and 121 degrees 38 minutes of east longitude, you can clearly see the aircraft carrier anchored at a pier.
Foreign news reports said Beijing might fix it and use it as an aircraft carrier. The comeback of the Varyag in the Yellow Sea after a century is an issue of concern in Northeast Asia.
by Chae In-taek
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.