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Johnson's Russia List


August 21, 2000    
This Date's Issues: 4467

Johnson's Russia List
21 August 2000

[Note from David Johnson:
1. Bloomberg: Russian Commander Says Crew All Dead, Sub Flooded.
2. AP: Public Opinion Has Sway in Russia.
3. Washington Post: Andrew Kuchins, Russia's Insecurity Complex.
5. Catherine Fitzpatrick: Re: Jonas Bernstein/4466.
6. Toronto Sun: Matthew Fisher, Putin revealed as a hollow man.
7. Boston Globe: David Filipov, In this Navy, a policy of neglect. Aging fleet seen as promising disaster.
8. Reuters: List of incorrect offial statements in Kursk affair.
9. Business Week Online: Paul Starobin, The Kursk Disaster: A Tragic Symbol of a Tattered Society.
10. Radio Ekho Moskvy: Interview with Admiral Eduard BALTIN, former Black Sea Fleet Commander.] 


Russian Commander Says Crew All Dead, Sub Flooded

Moscow, Aug. 21 (Bloomberg)
-- All 118 crew members of Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank 
nine days ago in the Barents Sea, are dead, Russia's Northern Fleet commander 

``As a result of the joint examination conducted by Russian and foreign 
specialists, it has been definitively established that the nuclear submarine 
Kursk is fully flooded and its 118-member crew is dead,'' Adm. Vyacheslav 
Popov said, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported. 

Of the sub's nine compartments, the front five or six flooded within minutes 
of the Aug. 12 accident that sent the sub to the sea floor. Norwegian divers 
today opened the rear escape hatch to find the ninth and last compartment 
flooded. They found a sailor's body. 

Russian investigators say the sub sank after a collision with an object 
weighing at least 8,000 tons, followed by the possible explosion of one or 
more torpedoes. Norwegian seismologists registered two explosions in the area 
at the time the sub sank. The second had a magnitude the equivalent to at 
least two of the sub's torpedoes. British and U.S. officials have questioned 
the Russians' claim that the Kursk was involved in a collision. 

Explosions, likely involving at least two torpedoes, flooded the first five 

Recovering the Bodies 

Norwegian divers have not looked in all compartments, said Lt. Cmdr. Rune 
Fredheim, spokesperson for the defense command in Northern Norway. The 
compartment under the hatch, in the back of the sub, should have suffered the 
least damage from the explosions at the front, where the torpedo tubes are 
located, he said. 

The Norwegian government was asked by Russian officials to assist in 
recovering the sailors' bodies and possibly to participate in helping to lift 
the Kursk from the ocean floor, said Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman 
Karsten Klepsvik. 

Vladimir Navrovsky, a spokesman with the Russian Navy, said removing the 
bodies could take as long as a month. 

Norwegian authorities are monitoring radiation at the sub before making any 
decision and plan to receive a report from the deep-water divers, who are 
going trough a four-day decompression procedure, Klepsvik said. 

``All the developments with the divers fit our theory of how the accident 
possibly occurred,'' said Ilya Klebanov, a deputy prime minister who is 
chairman of a commission investigating the Kursk's sinking. ``We believe that 
it was a dynamic impact from outside with a large object or a mine.'' 

Rescue Attempts 

The team arrived at the accident site Saturday, while the Russian Navy's 
diving capsules have been trying to rescue the crew since Aug. 15. The navy 
said it last heard tapping signals from inside the sub Aug. 14. 

Russian officials said the sub wasn't carrying any nuclear weapons and that 
the sub's reactors had been shut down, without any leakage of radiation. 

``We are following the tragedy with aching hearts and tears,'' Russian 
President Vladimir Putin said on Russian television yesterday. ``Sailors are 
doing everything possible to rescue their comrades.'' 

Putin has been criticized in the Russian and foreign press and by the Russian 
public over his failure to act quickly to request foreign assistance. The 
president's first official comment on the accident from the Black Sea resort 
where he was on vacation came four days after the sub sank. Putin returned to 
Moscow Saturday. 

``We are not at all surprised by the way the government has handled this 
catastrophe,'' said Anna Zerlitskaya, 25, a saleswoman living in the town of 
Murmansk. ``The fundamental problem is total disorganization on all levels -- 
the navy was entirely unprepared for such an emergency.'' 

Russian officials have said that two U.S. submarines and one U.K. submarine 
were operating in the area where the Kursk sank. The navy said it is possible 
that a foreign sub or surface ship collided with the Kursk. 

Today, navy officials said a fragment of a foreign submarine had been found 
near the Kursk, Interfax news agency reported. 

Both U.S. and U.K. officials denied their vessels had been involved. 

Radiation Concern 

Environmentalists have raised concern about possible radioactive pollution 
from the sub's two reactors. The Kursk sank in the shallow waters of the 
Norwegian and Russian coasts in a main fishing area north of Norway. 

If any radiation leakages occur from the reactors, it may go quickly in to 
the food chain, said Norway's Bellona, an environmental organization, which 
monitors radiation situation in the region. Bellona said it hasn't detected 
any radiation and Russian officials said the sub's reactors were secured. 

Klebanov said officials are considering a plan to possible lift the sub with 
floating pontoons. The Kursk displaces 24,000 tons of water. He said the plan 
will be drafted by the government in early September. 

``This will be an international project. We will appeal to many countries, 
which have required equipment,'' said Klebanov. ``No country would be able to 
do this'' on its own. 


Public Opinion Has Sway in Russia
August 21, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) - Efforts to save a lost Russian submarine have been matched by a 
frenzied effort in the Kremlin to minimize political damage to President 
Vladimir Putin, who has been hit by an unprecedented wave of public anger 
over the crisis. 

The Russian media and many ordinary people have savaged Putin for his failure 
to respond quickly to the loss of the submarine Kursk, especially his 
decision not to interrupt a vacation to oversee the rescue effort. Clearly 
stunned, Putin has been defensive and showing signs of strain. 

``Putin hasn't been successful so far in his attempts to find a way out of 
this awkward situation. He is late doing that and is on the defensive,'' said 
Yevgeny Volk, director of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office. 

The Kursk disaster demonstrated that public opinion has become a major force 
in Russian politics after generations of authoritarian rule, analysts said. 
They said Putin is the first Russian leader to be acutely aware of public 
opinion, often amending actions or policies in the face of Russian criticism. 

Trying to limit the outcry, Putin eventually returned to Moscow and began 
making daily televised comments on rescue efforts and measures to aid the 
victims' families. After the government was criticized for rebuffing offers 
of international aid, Putin directed the Russian navy to seek assistance from 
Norway and Britain. 

``The decision, albeit belated, to accept foreign aid shows how public 
opinion has become an increasingly important factor in Russia,'' said Natalia 
Laidinen, a researcher with the independent ROMIR agency. 

The public outcry was strong because the disaster involved young servicemen, 
with whom nearly all Russians could identify because military service is 
compulsory here, analysts said. 

Although Putin's image as a strong leader has been a critical part of his 
popularity, he has repeatedly backed away from issues or policies that have 
angered the public. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was credited with having 
a popular touch, but he often ignored public opinion. 

In recent months, Putin claimed he was not responsible when a top media 
mogul's arrest on corruption charges brought angry claims that the government 
was cracking down on press freedoms. He also tried to dissociate himself when 
Kremlin officials struck a deal with the Communists over control of the lower 
chamber of parliament. 

Analysts doubt that Putin will suffer any long-term political damage over the 
Kursk affair. He is still the most popular politician in recent Russian 
history, and a poll conducted over the weekend indicated that most Russians 
tend to blame other officials, not Putin, for the bungled rescue efforts. 

``The disaster has affected Putin's popularity but not shattered it,'' said 
Laidinen, whose agency conducted the poll. ``The president now needs a very 
smart strategy to prevent the further erosion of his popularity.'' 

The real challenge for Putin, a former KGB officer who never before held 
public office, is learning how to predict and react to public opinion, 
analysts said. His responses have betrayed a lack of political and public 
relations skills, they said. 

``Putin is struggling to explain his actions, but he has to go a long way to 
become a public politician,'' Volk said. ``Unlike (President) Clinton who 
would rush to a disaster site, Putin behaved like a closeted bureaucrat.'' 


Washington Post
August 21, 2000
[for personal use only]
Russia's Insecurity Complex 
By Andrew Kuchins ( 
The writer directs the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment 
for International Peace.

The fate of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk is a tragic metaphor for 
Russia's rapid descent in the past decade from global superpower status. 

The Kursk was engaged in exercises simulating conflict with NATO forces a 
decade after the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War. The Soviet Union's 
development of an ocean-going nuclear submarine force was an important part 
of the mammoth efforts of the Kremlin to achieve military parity with the 
United States.

Today these forces, along with the rest of the Russian nuclear weapons 
complex, no longer present the threat of Armageddon that was feared for 
decades. Rather, they are feared because of questions about Russia's ability 
to safely and reliably control the weapons and materials.

The choices Russia makes in the next few years about its military forces will 
have a large impact on international security. With a gross national product 
about the size of Switzerland's and an annual military budget of some $5 
billion, Russia faces hard decisions about allocating resources in the most 
effective manner to improve national security.

This was the topic of a Russian National Security Council meeting on Aug. 11 
that sought to address major differences among the top brass in Moscow. The 
minister of defense, Igor Sergeyev, supports funding for Russian nuclear 
forces as the top priority, while the chief of the Russian general staff, 
Anatoly Kvashnin, wants to see more support devoted to Russian conventional 

Both can bring compelling arguments to bear. Given the dramatic deterioration 
of Russia's conventional capabilities, its nuclear forces remain the primary 
currency to support Moscow's status as an international great power. But 
nuclear weapons hardly are effective or even usable weapons in the kinds of 
conflicts Russia is mostly likely to find itself in for the next decade or 
two. They didn't help in Afghanistan, and they aren't helping in Chechnya.

Even in the best-case scenario of prolonged Russian economic growth, Russia 
will be forced to make major changes in its force structure because of severe 
financial constraints. Making these hard choices could be the logical 
conclusion of the demilitarization initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 
1980s, and they also can have a revolutionary impact on international 
security, as did his "new political thinking," which led to the end of the 
Cold War.

The rapid aging of strategic nuclear forces means that Russia needs to reduce 
its arsenal of nuclear warheads dramatically, to no more than 1,000 in the 
coming decade. This can be done either bilaterally with the United States in 
the traditional arms control format, or it can be done unilaterally. 
Proceeding unilaterally would put considerable pressure on the United States 
to reciprocate at least in part. It also would provide a stimulus to arms 
reduction after nearly a decade of no progress and would help revive global 
nuclear nonproliferation efforts, which have suffered a series of blows in 
recent years.

Russian conventional forces also will need to downsize and at the same time 
be made more flexible for possible deployment in regional action in the 
Eurasian periphery. These forces should be structured not so much for 
conflicts with major powers such as NATO or China but rather to address the 
new agenda of post-Cold War security threats resulting from weak states and 
civil conflicts, drug trafficking, terrorism and information warfare.

Threats such as these are aided and abetted by globalization, but they cannot 
be effectively addressed by unilateral action. They require greater 
cooperation on the part of Russia with the West and its neighbors. Increasing 
recognition of this fact would contribute greatly not only to Russia's 
security but to international security in general.

Of course, all this may sound like an effort to make lemonade out of lemons. 
Given the societal trauma Russia continues to experience coupled with the 
series of humiliations (Chechnya, NATO expansion, Kosovo) that this 
still-proud military elite has experienced, there remains a good deal of 
danger and uncertainty. Apocalyptic scenarios for Russia were nearly 
conventional wisdom for many in the '90s, and there remain far darker 
alternatives than the one outlined above.

Paradoxically, however, despite its current weakness--symbolized by the 
Kursk--the Russian Federation has the power to make some fundamental choices 
about its security policy that can have a revolutionary impact on 
international relations. It is the human condition to want to make radical 
changes only in response to crisis. Thus, despite the United States' 
unprecedented prosperity and its position of strength, it seems far less 
likely than Russia to want to initiate fundamental change in security policy.

Russia, meanwhile, must learn the lesson taught by the Kursk tragedy: that 
the military complex inherited by the Russian Federation is inadequate to 
meet the new security challenges of Moscow, and further pretensions to 
maintain it will reduce Russian security as well as pose grave dangers to the 
rest of the world.


Vremya MN
August 18, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

Vladimir Putin has adopted an unprecedented decision in 
Russia's modern and recent history. He allowed our potential 
adversaries (the high-ranking army and navy officials continue 
to regard NATO member countries as Enemy No. 1) to touch the 
holy of holies - the nuclear shield and sword of Russia, a 
strategic nuclear submarine, in the name of saving the lives of 
All the other countries of the world regard this as a 
natural thing to do. They only wonder why it has taken Russian 
authorities several days to make this decision. For us, 
Russians, who very well remember that not very long ago in 
situations similar to the Kursk crisis the top government, 
party and military leaders preferred to send crews to death, 
rather than accept help from NATO (in the name of protecting 
the secrets of our military might), Putin's decision is a 
telltale step.
Probably only the lazy has not asked himself or others 
these days why the Russian President has kept silence since 
Saturday, August 12. If Putin's aim were to increase his 
political rating, such a long silence could be regarded as a 
mistake or a miscalculation. But if his aim is to get the 
problem resolved, what good his most moving words could do. 
Enough people vested with power and responsible for concrete 
sections of work, in this particular case for order in the 
Navy, are subordinated to the President. It has been their duty 
to talk and to act. Only when it became clear that they are far 
more preoccupied with saving their own faces than the crew in 
distress, the President had to interfere. Probably, it was too 
Nonetheless, Putin's words about the need to accept any 
help to rescue the submarine crew show that the Kursk accident 
has already entailed serious political consequences.
The first and most important of them is that the Russian 
President has, in fact, admitted that our country's claims to 
the status of a superpower have no ground as of today. It seems 
to be obvious that a country cannot be a superpower if its 
sailors die in peace times of hunger, soldiers leave their 
places of dislocation in protest against the horrible condition 
s of service and officers commit suicide on a nearly mass scale.
Chechnya is a separate subject. However, precisely the wave of 
great power patriotism raised Putin to the Presidency. Now, the 
issue at hand is not so much the generals or the bosses of the 
defense industry complex for whom the idea of reviving a 
superpower is a source of improving their own wellbeing. There 
is also the mentality of people most of whom have nothing left 
but recollections of those days when we could threaten the 
whole world. Against this background, Putin was running a 
serious political risk by making his statement. But the time 
should have come when someone would put an end to our 
deep-rooted practice to pay for principles by the lives of 
people. It is the first time that in the everlasting Russian 
disputes as to what is more important - the state or the 
individual - the head of state preferred the individual.
All the other consequences of Putin's decision look less 
important, compared with this, and it is easy to foresee them.
Judging by many things, the influence of the 
military-industrial lobby on important decision-making will 
grow weaker. The attempts of the defense industry complex to 
become the locomotive of the Russian economy have proved 
insolvent. The stake is once again on raw material producers. 
As a consequence of all that, there should begin active 
searches for a political settlement of the Chechen conflict. 
Government liberals will push aside so-called statists. The 
military reform cannot but begin at last accompanied with 
requisite changes in the top leadership of the armed forces. 
But the most important thing is that, judging by many things, 
Putin has at last made it clear that he wants to make Russia a 
normal country, rather than a scarecrow.


From: (Catherine A. Fitzpatrick) 
Subject: Re: Jonas Bernstein/4466
Date: Sat, 19 Aug 2000 

Gorbachev took nine days to respond publicly to the Chernobyl disaster,
and still didn't tell the truth about it, and it still isn't entirely
revealed. Fourteen years later, Putin took four days to respond to the
Kursk accident, but had difficulty lying due to intense media coverage.
The shortening of the reporting period by five days and the more rapid
involvement of the outside world is largely thanks to the Russian media,
as battered as it may be, which has expanded its rights and skills
considerably since 1986. That more independent media has helped to create
a better-informed and involved public, although their significance should
not be exaggerated as they are still very vulnerable, as continued arrests
and murders of journalists in Russia indicate. 

Yet ultimately, the Kursk non-response is not even so much about secrecy,
or unwillingness to lose face in front of technologically superior
foreigners. It is about indifference to human life. If Putin knew that the
explosion had been so destructive from the outset, it didn't matter to him
to try to save the men on board, because 1) the cost would be too great for
a cash-strapped navy and 2) human lives can be sacrificed for the sake of
maintaining Russia's great nuclear presence on the high seas. 

This comes from a bred-in-the belief that the ends justify the means, and
even violent means covered with the Big Lie. We used to call this
Bolshevism. As one can see from "First Person," the journalists'
interviews with Putin which I translated, he is a man who, as a KGB
officer, punched out a guy in the subway and broke his arm doing it, and
judo-flipped another guy at a bus stop because he asked for a cigarette the
wrong way. It would be incorrect to call him a "thug" because that might
imply lack of intelligence. But he is a man who wants to skip a lot of
complicated political and cultural steps involved in negotiating with the
Chechens, for example, and merely wipe them out in their latrines. He seems
unaware that a drama of men trapped beneath the ocean will captivate the
entire world, let alone the relatives. 

Let's remember that Putin didn't arise of his own accord atop some genuine
social movement, but he was appointed through complicated arrangements
worked out by Yeltsin and his entourage, and in a sense he represents
"their worst side," after they find, as Thomas Carruthers has put it, that
the "wind of democracy is no longer at their backs." Nyet cheloveka, nyet
problemy. But Russian citizens seem increasingly unwilling to sacrifice
human life to achieve an elusive state goal. 

The prosecution of Alexander Nikitin and Gregory Pasko, the
environmentalist and journalist who wrote about nuclear waste in the Russia
controlled seas, is related to the tragedy of the men at the bottom of the
Barents Sea -- related because it is about the freedom of the media and
civil society to exercise control over a cumbersome, destructive,
secretative and often vicious state that has become harmful even to 
its own loyal subjects. 


Toronto Sun
August 20, 2000 
Putin revealed as a hollow man 
Sun's Columnist at Large

Vladimir Putin has failed his first big test as president. 

The dour Russian leader styles himself a man of action. The diminutive 
former spy revels in images of himself throwing judo opponents around, 
jumping into fighter jets, climbing into submarine conning towers and flying 
to the front lines to pin medals on soldiers in Chechnya for winning a war 
which, tellingly, is a long way from being over. 

It took the man of action five days after the pride of Russia's Northern 
Fleet sank before he managed to utter any public comment on what his hapless 
admirals were calling "a catastrophe." 

Like Mikhail Gorbachev when the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl melted down on 
April, 1986, Putin apparently did not know how to behave when the submarine 
Kursk, with its twin 50 megawatt reactors, suddenly disappeared while on a 
training exercise in the Arctic Ocean. He did what Soviet leaders have often 
done when confronted with an unpleasant problem. That is, he said and did 
nothing and shrank from public view. 

On vacation 

While Russia and the world were transfixed by the fate of the 118 men aboard 
the vessel known by the call sign, K141, and as demands to call in foreign 
help rose to a crescendo, Putin took four days before asking Britain and 
Norway to assist in the rescue operation. Even then, the president did not 
interrupt his vacation on the Black Sea to travel more than 2,000 km north to 
Murmansk to meet distraught family members or personally direct the rescue 
operation for the same warship he had proudly ordered to lead a Russian 
flotilla into the Mediterranean in a show of force planned for this autumn, 
the likes of which had not been seen for a decade. 

The explosions which brought the Kursk to the ocean floor in a matter of 
seconds while apparently trying to launch a hydrogen peroxide-fuelled torpedo 
provide a raw example of how far the once mighty Russian military has fallen 
from grace since the Warsaw Pact fell apart in 1989. Most of the officers on 
board the five-year-old boat, which can be armed with enough nukes to destroy 
an entire U.S. Navy carrier battle group, are paid about $100 a month. 
Conscripts earn much less and wages are generally not paid until more than a 
month after they become due. Money is so tight one Moscow daily claimed last 
week that the Kursk had put to sea without enough batteries because more were 
not available. 

The Kursk was painted black. Most Russian surface warships are painted grey. 
But as I discovered when I paid a rare visit to the Black Sea port of 
Sevastopol three years ago, rust is the true colour of Russia's aging fleet. 

The silhouettes of two Canadian CF-18 Hornets were depicted on a wall on the 
bridge of the guided missile cruiser Kerch, when I toured the flagship of the 
Black Sea Fleet and an anti-submarine frigate moored alongside. The Kerch 
seldom makes it through the Bosphorus and into the Mediterranean, let alone 
into the Atlantic Ocean. 

In fact, its captain, who would only allow his first name, Vladimir, to be 
used, was excited by the prospect of soon having enough fuel to sail his 
cruiser around the Black Sea for a few days. 

Period of decline 

"My feelings about the Russian Navy can be compared to those of an American 
officer who saw the ruins of Pearl Harbour," said Capt. Vladimir, who had 
spent decades shadowing NATO warships, as he poured welcoming shots of cognac 
in his cabin. "I still consider Russia to be a great sea power that is in a 
period of depression and decline." 

The captain related that his sons thought him crazy to still be in the navy 
after 29 years. In defending his quixotic decision to stay on, he said: "We 
have one aim: to try and preserve the intellectual skills and potential of 
our sailors." 

>From the sorry display to be seen in the harbour at Sevastopol, that will 
prove immensely difficult. Only a handful of warships looked as if they could 
put to sea in less than a few weeks and security was so lax that it was 
possible to drive right up to any of the moored ships without being 
challenged once. 

While President Putin wants the Russian Navy to strut its stuff in the 
Mediterranean and demands that Russia be treated as an equal partner by the 
G-7 nations, his admirals have been darkly warning that they may have no 
warships to put to sea within 15 years. 

Notwithstanding Russia's prodigious natural resources and its great military 
tradition, its armed forces are running on empty and its president has been 
curiously invisible. 


Boston Globe
August 21, 2000
In this Navy, a policy of neglect 
Aging fleet seen as promising disaster
By David Filipov, Globe Staff

MOSCOW - Just before Gennady Lyakhin captained the Kursk to sea on its maiden 
voyage, he turned to a television camera and said his vessel, one of Russia's 
most modern and fearsome submarines, was proof, and a potent symbol, that 
Russia still had the military might to defend its interests around the world.

That was in 1995.

Now, barring a miracle, Lyakhin lies dead in the wreckage of his sub at the 
bottom of the icy waters of the Barents Sea, along with the rest of his 
118-man crew.

And the Kursk has become a symbol of something entirely different: of 
Russia's inability to keep its nuclear Navy maintained and its crews trained, 
and of the dangers this implies for the rest of the rusting fleet of 
''floating Chernobyls'' that make up the bulk of the country's submarine 

The sinking of the Kursk is not the first submarine disaster for the former 
Soviet Union; it is the fifth in the past 20 years. But it is the first to 
unfold in real time.

The loss of the sub, and the futile week of efforts to save the crew, have 
given the world, as well as ordinary Russians, an unflattering glimpse of the 
cancers eating away at Russia's once-proud military: lack of funding and 
resources, confusion and discord among commanders, general disregard for the 
safety and well-being of service personnel, and evidence everywhere of 
long-term decay.

''The Kursk tragedy and the rescue operation show the true current state of 
the Russian Navy,'' said Admiral Georgy Kostev, one of Russia's leading 
authorities on submarines, last week.

The unexplained loss of a submarine called ''unsinkable'' by its designers 
has dealt a serious blow to President Vladimir V. Putin's plans to make the 
Navy the mainstay of Moscow's bid to reclaim great power status.

It is a goal embodied in a huge billboard that has popped up on Moscow's 
streets, featuring a picture of a Russian missile cruiser, with the slogan 
''Naval Might for Russia's Glory.''

If the rescue effort, as is all but certain, ends up confirming the deaths of 
118 men, the Kursk disaster would be the largest peacetime loss for the 
Russian Navy.

The Kursk tragedy could have been even worse if the sub had been carrying 
nuclear weapons, or if its reactor had begun leaking radiation. What worries 
some analysts most is the possibility that the Kursk disaster could repeat 

The Kola Peninsula, home of the Northern Fleet, where the Kursk was based, 
has 270 military and civilian nuclear reactors on its soil, the largest 
concentration in the world. It is home to about 50 active nuclear submarines 
and 90 that have been decommissioned.

Of these decommissioned vessels, 35 still contain nuclear reactors or fuel, 
and therefore cannot simply be scrapped, said Alexei Yablokov, a former 
adviser on ecological issues to former president Boris N. Yeltsin.

Russia has no money and inadequate facilities to transfer or store the 
radioactive fuel. The result is a growing backlog of poorly stored nuclear 
waste, much of it afloat on docked submarines that need constant maintenance.

''These vessels are a catastrophe waiting to happen, they are floating 
Chernobyls,'' Yablokov said. ''They require constant cooling, or else there 
is the possibility of an explosion.''

Once, when the local utility turned off the electricity serving one of the 
decommissioned boats, the diesel-fueled backup pumps were out of fuel.

''An admiral told me later we were an hour or so away from a meltdown,'' 
Yablokov said. ''Depending on the wind, that could send fallout as far as 

Or as near as Murmansk, a city of 500,000 next to the main naval base. 
Murmansk has had its share of close calls in recent years: In May 1998, radio 
stations warned people to take iodine tablets after a fire on a Delta-class 
ballistic missile submarine set off fears of nuclear fallout.

After a brief period of openness in the early 1990s, the military has clamped 
the lid of secrecy over the nuclear peril on the Kola Peninsula. Anyone who 
tries to raise the nuclear waste problem is persecuted, like Alexander 
Nikitin, a former Navy captain who spent two years in prison on treason 
charges before a court acquitted him this year.

''The leadership still prefers secrecy to safety, unfortunately for the 
sailors, and probably unfortunately for society,'' said Joshua Handler, a 
doctoral student at Princeton University who is a specialist on the Russian 
nuclear fleet.

Have the near-catastrophes caused the Navy to take more safety precautions to 
prevent accidents? The Kursk disaster indicates that the answer is no. 
Several reports said last week that the submarine left shore without vital 
batteries that would power backup air-purifying and light systems in an 

One former commander of Russia's Navy, Eduard Baltin, said last week that he 
had asked why the Navy had not sent deep-sea divers, who can operate at 350 
feet, to investigate the damage, try to set up communications with the 
submarine, and possibly pass supplies and oxygen to any survivors.

Baltin said he had found out that the Navy still had a deep-sea diving unit, 
but all training and funding had stopped, and all the qualified divers had 
left for better-paying jobs.

Kostev said Russia once had two rescue submarines similar to the one the 
British have, but the minisubs were decommissioned in 1995. In their absence, 
less capable bathyscaphs with short-lived batteries and antiquated diving 
bells, none of which could fight the strong undersea currents, wasted three 
days trying to latch onto the Kursk's escape hatch. Only on Wednesday did 
Russia decide to call in a British minisub and a Norwegian team of deep-sea 
divers for assistance.

''As for the rescue operation, it is being conducted as if they don't want to 
save the crew, but instead get rid of any loose ends in the ocean,'' Kostev 
said last week.

All of Russia's armed services have been in crisis since the 1991 Soviet 
breakup, especially after two costly campaigns in the breakaway republic of 
Chechnya. But the Navy has been hit worst of all. Russia's total annual 
defense budget is less than $5 billion, a fraction of what it was 10 years 
ago, and the Navy's share has shrunk to less than 15 percent.

The Navy can barely pay for food or for sailors and officers' wages, to say 
nothing of investing in new vessels, weapons, training, and maintenance. The 
number of active nuclear-powered submarines, considered the elite force of 
the Russian Navy, has shrunk from more than 250 during the Cold War to 60 
today. Patrols have been cut by 70 percent.

''The main reason we have probably not seen more of these horrendous 
accidents since the situation has deteriorated is because they have less subs 
and they are operating less,'' said Handler at Princeton.

The massive 500-foot vessels of the Kursk class, known as Oscar-2 by NATO and 
Antei by the Russians, were considered Russia's best attack submarines, with 
enough armor to survive a direct torpedo hit and the firepower to destroy an 
entire US aircraft-carrier group in one attack.

But in the post-Cold War world, taking on the US Navy is not a top priority 
for Russia, and even the Oscar-2 boats have been neglected. Of the seven 
remaining Oscar-2 submarines, three are laid up, waiting to be scrapped. 
Defense analysts say one more Oscar-2 is under construction, though it is 
unclear whether it will ever be finished.

Some reports last week suggested the Kursk had been at sea only twice in five 
years. Since the vessel had three rotating crews, that probably meant that 
some crew members on board last weekend had no prior experience at sea. 
Alexander Pikayev, a specialist on nuclear forces at the Carnegie Center in 
Moscow, said repairs to the boat had been delayed because of funding 
problems; instead, a vital repair was taken on by sailors.

''The inactivity of the fleet and the loss of technical and human resources 
of the past few years undeniably helped the accident happen,'' Pikayev said.

Putin also may bear some responsibility. Just a day before the Kursk sank, on 
Aug. 11, he told his Security Council that it was time to reform a military 
in which ''pilots don't fly, and sailors barely go to sea.''

To change this, Putin had ordered massive exercises of the kind the Northern 
Fleet had not seen since the Cold War. The idea was to ready the fleet for a 
voyage to the Mediterranean this fall, which would show the world that Russia 
still had a presence on the high seas.

The problem, defense analysts like Pikayev said, is that officers and crews 
who had spent most of the decade on shore no longer had the training or 
discipline to operate their complex vessels.

''As the Americans say, people get rusty more quickly than boats,'' Pikayev 
said. ''This sharp change in the routine, taking these ships with poor 
repairs, undisciplined crews who have lost many of their skills - this is a 
recipe for something to go wrong.''

On Aug. 11, the Security Council decided to make deep cuts in Russia's 
strategic nuclear arsenal in order to fund other branches of the military, 
and to shift the focus of Russia's nuclear deterrent to the Navy, a move the 
Kursk disaster could force the Kremlin to reconsider.

''How long can we get by on the enthusiasm of our men,'' Putin asked 
rhetorically during the meeting.

The next day he got his answer.


FACTBOX-List of incorrect offial statements in Kursk affair

MOSCOW, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Throughout the Kursk submarine disaster Russian 
officials have given a number of incorrect descriptions of events. 

Some clearly could have been caused by the fluid situation and lack of 
information, others appear aimed at understating the seriousness of the 
accident and exaggerating the capabilities of Russian rescue technology. 

Some of the Russian media have accused the authorities of lying about the 

Critics say the wrong reports at the very least caused unnecessary pain for 
the families of the victims, and at worst led to delays that may have 
prevented a successful rescue. 

Following is a list of the falsehoods that drew the most attention during the 
course of the tragedy. 

MONDAY, Aug 14 

The navy initially reported the disaster on Monday, August 14. It said it had 
taken place on Sunday. In fact it took place on Saturday, as was revealed 
later by Norway. 

The navy said the Kursk was crippled by ``technical faults'' and the crew 
allowed it to glide to the sea bed. In fact, it was destroyed by explosions 
on board, quickly flooded and sank. Most of the crew was killed within 

Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said that rescuers were in radio contact with the 
crew. In fact, there was no radio contact from the moment of the accident. 

The navy said the crew had immediately signalled it had shut down the nuclear 
reactor that supplies power to the craft. Officials later said that the 
reactors' automatic system switched them off. In fact, since there was no 
radio contact, officials had no information from on board. There have been no 
radiation leaks. 

Officials denied that the bow of the submarine was flooded, saying there was 
no damage to the hull. 

Officials said they were lowering a diving bell to the submarine to supply it 
with electric power and oxygen for the crew. This did not take place. 
Rescuers accomplished nothing on Monday night except filming the site. 

TUESDAY, Aug 15 

A navy spokesman said the crew had signalled there had been no deaths on 
board. Reports that there may have been some deaths were publicly denied. 

Officials said Russian rescue equipment and crews were in no way inferior to 
those being offered by the West. In fact, Russia has no teams of deep sea 
divers capable of mounting an underwater rescue, and Russian rescue mini-subs 
are not as advanced as those offered by the United States and Britain. 


A navy deputy chief of staff said the crew on board was continuing to signal 
by tapping on the hull. Later officials said that the last sound from the 
vessel came on Monday. 

FRIDAY, Aug 18 

President Vladimir Putin says accepting foreign help earlier would have made 
no difference because foul weather would have interfered with an 
international rescue. Western military experts said weather would have had 
little impact on a rescue operation underwater using their technology. 

Putin says he has known since the first day of the blast that the chance of 
anybody surviving on the ship was ``extremely small,'' contradicting numerous 
optimistic reports. 


Russian officials acknowledged that damage to the vessel was massive, most of 
the crew died within minutes and the rest are almost certainly dead. It is 
not clear how long they had known this information. 

SUNDAY, Aug 20 

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Norwegian divers had discovered the 
hatch to the submarine was too damaged to be opened. Norway said the divers 
made no such conclusion. They eventually opened the hatch with few problems. 


Business Week Online
AUGUST 21, 2000 
By Paul Starobin 
The Kursk Disaster: A Tragic Symbol of a Tattered Society 
A tour of Murmansk, near the sub's Arctic home base, exposes the gulf between 
President Putin's vision and Russian reality 

The view from the Kosyakov, a Russian passenger ship from the Soviet era, is 
filled with wreckage and waste. First the boat snakes out of Murmansk harbor, 
past the rusted, rotting hulls of fishing vessels and cargo ships. Then it 
heads north along the Kola Inlet, toward Severomorsk, a closed city that's 
headquarters for the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet. 

Tied to Severomorsk's piers are submarines and warships that go begging for 
spare parts and are preyed upon by fleet personnel unable to subsist on 
paltry wages. "The sailors steal all sorts of things -- fuel, anything," says 
Sergei Preschov, a deckhand aboard the Kosyakov. "I know some officers who go 
fishing to feed their families." 

The Kola Inlet leads to the open waters of the Barents Sea. That's where on 
Aug. 12 the Kursk, a 150-meter-long Russian nuclear submarine belonging to 
the Northern Fleet, sank to the bottom. No hope remains for survivors among 
the 118 crew members, and details of both the sinking and rescue attempts 
remain shrouded in official secrecy. 

TOO PROUD. But this much is plain. The Kursk disaster has exposed a massive 
gap between the vision of new Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the 
actual capabilities of the post-Soviet Russian military. Putin aims to 
restore it as an instrument of Russian national greatness. But the armed 
forces, like so much of Russia itself, are akin to a hospital ward that lacks 
not only adequate medical supplies but also decent beds and well-trained 
doctors and orderlies. 

The military is ill-equipped to fulfill long-term missions or to respond to 
emergencies -- and its stewards are sometimes too proud to admit to this 
painful reality. In such circumstances, it takes an enormous imagination to 
see a future military tiger. 

Murmansk itself inspires little hope. The world's largest city north of the 
Arctic Circle, with a population of 380,000, it seems encased in a Soviet-era 
amber of substandardness. The Soviet Union formally expired almost a decade 
ago. But just as in the bad old days, no hot water is available to the city's 
residents during the summer months, even with night-time temperatures 
dropping to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in mid-August. The town's main drag is 
still called Lenina Prospekt, and a statue of Lenin himself remains the 
avenue's most prominent feature. 

ANARCHIC POACHING. Ramshackle buildings, many still bearing a 
hammer-and-sickle emblem, line the streets. Many cars sport cracked 
windshields. Many people wear worry-lined faces and dress in shabby shades of 
brown and gray. Nearly everyone smokes, and many walkers on the avenue swill 
cheap beer. The air reeks of industrial fumes. 

With the Northern Fleet in nearby Severomorsk starved for funds, the local 
economy has little to support it except for the port and adjoining rail 
depot. These facilities limp along with shipments of coal and other 
commodities. But just as in Severomorsk, crime is rampant along the docks. No 
single organized-crime outfit has captured this turf, according to locals. 
It's more like an anarchic poaching zone available to a wide assortment of 
individual thieves, including customs officials and small-time criminal 

Not all is dismal and dreary in Murmansk. A natural landscape of green 
forests is set against the austere blue carpet of the Kola Inlet, a picture 
made all the more inviting for the city's man-made blight. Then, too, near 
the rail station, is a row of flower stalls that display red roses in full 
bloom, looking healthier than the fare typically available on Moscow streets. 
Even in Murmansk, rubles can be spared to adorn weddings and other 

No nation is incapable of renewal, and the Russian people are surely not to 
be counted out. But the Kursk disaster is a marker of a society in deep 
distress, operating on the thinnest of margins for error. Greatness -- 
military or otherwise -- is a distant, if not unobtainable, dream. 

Starobin, Moscow bureau chief for Business Week, covers Russian politics and 
Edited by Beth Belton


August 19, 2000
Radio Ekho Moskvy
Interview with Admiral Eduard BALTIN, former Black Sea Fleet Commander
by Vladimir Varfolomeev
[translation for personal use only]

Q: In the past, beside being Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, you also
served in the Northern Fleet as commander of division of strategic submarine
missile cruisers. How do you assess latest events? Does the information that
is available to us leave any hope?

A: Let us not speak about hope. There have been many contradictory versions
of the event. I just come back from RTR where we used computer simulation to
reconstruct the potential collision that caused the sub to sink and to plan
some actions that should be taken immediately to retrieve the crew.

Q: On the basis of what information did you do the computer modeling?

A: I don't have any additional information beyond TV news. But I served on
submarines for 27 years, and I spent 20 years out of these on nuclear
submarines, 14 years beyond the Polar Circle, 8 years in Kamchatka, and so
on, which allows me to make certain conclusions. I presented my version of a
collision to NTV and Interfax as early as Monday.

Q: At that time, many military men viewed it with doubt. But now it seems
that this version is being corroborated by evidence.

A: I don't blame anyone. There are just people who served in other types of
ships. And they had good luck, they didn't suffer explosions, they had no
experience of sinking and of battling with fire.

Q: What kind of collision was this?

A: Some have already issued denials saying the sub did not collide with an
ice breaker, but I had not claimed that either. There could have been two
possibilities. There could have been a collision with an underwater object
at the depth of 11-20 meters. Or it could have been a collision with a ship
with a reinforced ice belt. These kinds of ships were mostly built in the
1970s. They have a very powerful armored belt which can cut through up to
one meter of ice.

Q: Do you have any idea about the nationality of this other ship?

A: This would have been a foreign ship which happened to be on a
countercourse at a periscopic depth taking observations about our
above-water ships. This is a shallow-water area of only 100 m depth, both
ships were soundless with very good hydroacoustic features, and therefore
captains were unable to detect each other's ships and take precautions. This
might be the cause of a possible collision. The other ship was in a better
position. At the moment of the collision our sub was at the depth of 30 m
and moving toward the surface. The other ship was moving at the speed of 4
to 5 knots.
That is, by their technical characteristics, they could not detect each
other even in theory. One ship was above and the other one was below at a
small depth. These hydroacoustic oceanic vessels can detect an above-water
target at 300 m and more. But at such a distance they are powerless.
Therefore, it was wrong to send our sub of an oceanic type which is indeed
the most powerful to this area.

Q: That is, this was a mistake of our staff officers?

A: This was first of all a mistake of the Navy Staff. This plan was set by
the Northern Fleet Commander and approved by the Navy Staff and Chief
Commander of the Navy. They should not take it as an offense. My conclusion
is based upon the kinds of damage to the body of the ship that we've seen on
television. First, there's a big hole in the bow of the ship: next, there
was a sliding hit in the upper part, because the other ship was thrust
upward because of the collision, while our ship was pushed down. This is my
opinion on the basis of what I've seen.

Q: How could a foreign ship happen to be in the area of our naval exercises
and go through the external ring of our ships?

A: These are the questions I was asked today by American representatives.
They were highly interested in my version and they were asking very
professional questions by phone for more than an hour. I explained to them
that I graduated from the mine and torpedo department of the Higher Navy
School and that explosions and torpedo shootings were my professional work.
The kind of damage that we've seen so far cannot be produced by an internal
explosion. You see the dents on the deck cabin and a cutting stripe along
the starboard and they have nothing to do with an explosion. This might have
been a battering-ram hit, and I estimate the probability at above 86%. But
there were no deliberate actions of any kind on either side.

Q: Last evening a TV journalist referred to submariners who said that when
the rescue vehicle went toward the sub for the first time and hit the body
of the sub, they heard a response from the inside.

A: I can easily imagine what is going on in the compartments. I went through
an explosion and got burnt for the first time on May 8, 1966. As a
subcommander, I sank a torpedo compartment at a S-384 ship of the Black Sea
Fleet. At the moment, there can be only very few people alive and
unconscious in the stern compartments. The reason is not just lack of
oxygen. I won't list now all the poisonous gases that evaporate from a
flooded battery. You cannot survive with them for more than an hour.

Q: What kind of a foreign fleet could it be to have such a ship that could
survive after this collision?

A: I believe that the other ship would have suffered a heavy damage, but it
was at the depth of only 10-11 meters. And the periscope of an American sub
is 12-meter high.
I know that the other ship would have a hole in the first compartment, and
it would probably be flooded with water. But it had more space and
considerable speed, whereas our ship hit the seabed. And the hit was very
strong. It would have been accompanied with explosions of high-pressure air
ballons, each of 100 kg trotyl equivalent.

Q: Were there similar incidents in the history of the submarine fleet?

A: Such catastrophies occur periodically. There are no witnesses because
nobody survived. In the US, 21 submarine perished over the past 70 years,
and 431 submariners are still underwater. In 1963, there was the sinking of
the newest nuclear-powered vessel Tresher, with the entire crew. In our
navy, there was the sinking of a nuclear vessel K-8.


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