PRESIDENT TO DECIDE FATE OF KURSK RECOVERY PROJECT

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Ivan Safronov Kommersant-daily, March 13, 2001, p. 3

At the upcoming Russian-EU summit in Stockholm, President Putin will have to either accept the West’s conditions or decide to finance the raising of the Kursk just from the budget.

March 12 the West laid out the terms under which it would be willing to participate in financing the project to raise the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk. They are demanding that Moscow take responsibility for an environmental program to eliminate nuclear waste storage in northwestern Russia. This program was proposed by EU member nations in 1999. As Rio Praaning, secretary of the Kursk Foundation, said yesterday in an interview with RIA Novosti, a final decision on Russia’s participation in the program may be made at the March 21 Russian-EU summit in Stockholm.

We will remind our readers that last Sunday Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov stated that the Kursk Foundation is likely to fail to raise the necessary sum to finance the raising of the Kursk. The foundation board has been accusing the Russian government of moving slowly to act on its promise to donate $25 million. Yesterday, the underlying reason for the situation became clear.

As long ago as 1999, EU member nations submitted to Moscow for consideration the ten-year environmental program Multilateral Nuclear Environment Program for Russia (MNEPR) aimed at eliminating nuclear waste deposits in northwestern Russia (right now nearly 320 old nuclear reactors are waiting in line for dismantling in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Regions). The West promised $8 billion’s worth of financial aid for implementing the program. That sum was supposed to be transferred to Russia in installments, each of which would be made only after thorough inspections of work performed by Russian specialists to dismantle both old nuclear reactors and nuclear-powered submarines of the Northern Fleet and spent nuclear fuel. However, Moscow rejected the idea of allowing Western specialists to inspect military objects in Russia, and suggested that instead the entire $8 billion grant be handed over to Russia in a single installment.

Praaning stated yesterday that the West insists that Russia and the EU should first reach an agreement regarding the MNEPR program; after that, within the framework of that program, the Kursk would be raised and then dismantled. According to Praaning, the Russian party is ready to agree to that condition, but only if Moscow first receives financial aid from the West and assistance with recovering the sunken sub – only after that will Moscow make a final decision regarding the environmental program.

The issue will be discussed at the aforementioned Stockholm Russian-EU summit. President Putin, who has already promised the families of the crew that died on the Kursk that the sub would be lifted in 2001, will have to either accept the EU’s conditions and announce Russia’s readiness to settle the issues of the sub’s recovery and the fulfillment of the MNEPR program simultaneously, or decide to finance the recovery project 100% from budget funds. However, since the government is currently having trouble finding even $25 million, it is unlikely that it will manage somehow come up with $80 million.

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