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.
4. Vremya MN: Sergei Chugayev, FOR THE FIRST TIME RUSSIA PUTS THE LIVES OF PEOPLE ABOVE IDEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES.
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
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.''
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
``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.
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
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
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.''
August 21, 2000
[for personal use only]
Russia's Insecurity Complex
By Andrew Kuchins (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
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
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
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.
August 18, 2000
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
FOR THE FIRST TIME RUSSIA PUTS THE LIVES OF PEOPLE ABOVE
By Sergei CHUGAYEV
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
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: email@example.com (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.
August 20, 2000
Putin revealed as a hollow man
By MATTHEW FISHER
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.
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
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
>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
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
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
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
''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
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
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
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.
WEDNESDAY, Aug 16
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
SATURDAY, Aug 19
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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