DRAMATIC TWIST IN THE KURSK DISASTER INVESTIGATION

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Vadim Solovev Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 12, 2001

Professor Igor Spassky says that technical specialists have discovered the real cause of the Kursk submarine disaster. Officials refuse to comment on this statement, but their silence shows that the responsibility for the tragedy lies with Navy commanders.

Professor Igor Spassky, chief designer at the Rubin Central Design Bureau, made a public statement on January 10 about the cause of the Kursk submarine disaster. He hinted that he has “a clear idea about the sinking”. He noted that “this is a unique incident, which has resulted in such a major tragedy”. According to Spassky, “experts are close to solving the mystery”.

Spassky referred to certain documents retrieved by divers from the fourth compartment of the sunken submarine, and debris raised from the bottom of the Barents Sea.

Members of the government commission on the disaster have refused to comment on Spassky’s statement, and expressed surprise at this sensational news. The reaction of officials and Russian Navy specialists who are investigating the Kursk sinking was the same. The heads of the government commission are not in Moscow right now, for a variety of reasons: Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir Kuroedov is inspecting the Caspian Fleet; the location of Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov is unknown. It is clear that Spassky has taken advantage of this situation to forestall the stream of criticism about technical defects of Russian submarines, and to make the main reason for the Kursk disaster public. He made his sensational statement at the Neptune international business center, in the presence of Russian and foreign journalists, representatives of foreign companies and organizations which will start work on raising the Kursk this spring.

Despite Professor Spassky’s statement, the members of the government commission are still considering only three theories about the accident (collision with a foreign submarine; collision with a mine; or an emergency involving a torpedo in the first compartment). Nevertheless, Spassky’s statement shows that in reality they prefer the theory of spontaneous ignition and consequent detonation of torpedoes on the submarine. In any case, the tone of Spassky’s statement indicates that technical specialists view a collision with a foreign submarine or a mine as improbable.

It’s clear that Professor Spassky is trying to shift responsibility away from designers, to the submarine crew or the technical personnel who prepared the submarine for its last mission. If Spassky’s views are correct, criticism should be directed against Russian Navy commanders, who allegedly did not train the crew or prepare the submarine properly.

Spassky’s comments have practically revealed the conclusions which the commission has kept secret, saying that the real cause of the disaster will be known after the submarine is raised from the seabed (in six months’ time). The chief designer of the Rubin Central Design Bureau has cut down this timing. His emphasis shows that his statement is sincere.

In any case, officials cannot comment on his statement: it seems as if they are in a trance. It is possible that Spassky has hit the mark.

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