FRENCH SUBMARINERS COME TO HELP

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By Yuri Golotyuk Vremya Novostei, August 1, 2001, p. 3

France backs up the Russian draft accord on prevention of accidents with submarines

On Tuesday, Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroyedov announced that official Paris is prepared to discuss and sign the Russian draft accord on the prevention of incidents with submarines. According to Kuroyedov, the Russian Navy has already received a cable from the French Navy. The cable suggests the formation of a groups of experts who will prepare the document for signing. This way Paris once again comes to Russia’s help in its traditional battle for peace all over the world. Moreover, it comes to Russia’s help in a matter, which was thought all but hopeless until the last moment. Russia’s efforts notwithstanding, its draft accord on the security of submarines that saw the light of day in 1992 was quietly buried by the leading naval powers. Even the Kursk tragedy did not help Moscow persuade NATO.

Omitting technical trivia, Russian proposals boiled down to setting a kind of traffic regulation for submarines. The existing rules (the so called International Rules of Prevention of Collisions in the Sea, 1972) apply to submarines but only when they are on the surface. Once submerged, they are completely free. As a result, almost 30 incidents with submarines were recorded in the last one-third of the century, most of them involving American and Russian (Soviet) submarines. It was inevitable in the Cold War – submariners of the leading powers had been trained to sneak to the enemy submarine and track it (in the time of peace) or sink (in a war). Every sub-driver decided for himself how closely he dared approach the unsuspecting enemy. The hunting thrill is a bad adviser even in the best of times. The end of the Cold War seemed to indicate the possibility of putting an end to the hunting season. Moscow approached the United States first and then other leading naval powers with the proposal to begin negotiations. The initiative was turned down. Washington flatly refused to put up with the provision on the so-called zones of confidence and trust where submariners should be extremely tactful. Moscow suggested that such zones should be determined with the interests of both states taken into account. For Russia, that would have meant the Barents and the Kara seas near the bases of Northern Fleet submarines and areas close to Kamchatka and Vladivostok (bases of the Pacific Fleet). The Americans would have ended up with the areas near their naval bases Charleston and Kings Bay in the Atlantic and Bangor in the Pacific. Washington refused.

Tragedies with submarines continue. We do not know yet how the proposed accords will ameliorate the situation in Washington refuses to sign them but a precedent is important all the same. At least French support of Russia’s other initiative (making the Russian-American negotiations over strategic stability multinational, Russian and French presidents agreed on it during Chirac’s visit to Moscow in July) has already resulted in certain progress.

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