THE KURSK BECOMES RUSSIA’S "INTERNAL AFFAIR": RUSSIA CAN RAISE THE SUBMARINE ALL BY ITSELF – BUT NOT RIGHT NOW

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Yuri Golotyuk Vremya Novostei, April 12, 2001, p. 1

Russia has once again denied that there were any nuclear weapons aboard the Kursk submarine. It is also displeased by European efforts to link salvage funding with other issues. Moscow does not rule out the possibility that the salvage operation in the Barents Sea may be postponed until 2002.

On Wednesday, Andrei Nikolayev of the Duma Defense Committee officially informed his colleagues that the nuclear submarine Kursk was not carrying nuclear weapons when it sank. Suspicions that it actually did were generated last week by a highly incoherent interview which Grigori Tomchin, a member of the governmental commission, gave to the Norwegian TV company TV2. This interview sparked the theory that the Kursk had two nuclear warheads for its Granit missiles. Moscow might have been in trouble – because in the early 1990s it had agreed with the United States to move nuclear weapons from ships of this class to coastal arsenals. Suspicions concerning what might be found inside the Kursk suspended Russia’s negotiations with foreign partners. The latter got another excuse to refuse to participate in the salvage operation in the Barents Sea.

Nikolayev admits that his statement yesterday was based on the information provided by the governmental commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov. In other words, he did not say anything new, since Klebanov had always denied the presence of nuclear weapons on the Kursk.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made a more sensational statement with regard to the Kursk during his visit to Holland. According to Ivanov, Moscow does not want financial assistance in the Kursk operation to be linked by the West “with issues not directly related to the salvage operation.” Apparently, Moscow means the desire of the leading European Union countries to include financial aspects of the salvage operation in the global program of Northern seas “nuclear decontamination”. The Kremlin must have perceived it as an attempt to intervene in Russia’s domestic affairs. According to Ivanov, Russia would finance the operation itself if the West insisted on any additional conditions with regard to the Kursk.

In this case, the salvage operation may be postponed for a year. The government’s directive “On the salvage, transportation, and placement of the nuclear submarine Kursk into a floating dock” which Prime Minister Mikhail Kasianov signed recently does not allocate sufficient sums to the operation, whose cost Klebanov estimated at “about $80 million”. The document orders the Finance Ministry to “allocate up to 500 million rubles from the budget in April – July 2001 for restoration of technical readiness of the ships to be directly involved in the operation.” Along with that, in April and May the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry are supposed “to find financial sources for the purchase of equipment and gear” to the value of 900 million rubles. All this falls short of Klebanov’s $80 million. The rest of the money was to be raised by the International Kursk Foundation. The possibility of rejection of the financial assistance from the West is broached in the document diplomatically. It states that “if the International Kursk Foundation fails to raise the necessary sum” the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry “are to forward their proposals to the Cabinet on additional sources of funding in 2001 and 2002.” What it boils down to is this – Moscow publicly admits that the whole operation or its phases (like cutting the first compartment from the rest of the hull and lifting it to the surface) may be postponed for a year.

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