OPERATION IN THE BARENTS SEA IS STILL UNDER QUESTION

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Marat Khairullin Novye Izvestia, August 7, 2001, pp. 1-2

One of the most dangerous parts of the salvaging operation in the Barents Sea is about to commence.

Specialists of the Northern Fleet assigned to the salvaging operation are about to begin the most dangerous part – cutting into the first compartment of the nuclear submarine Kursk.

Public interest in the salvaging operation has been beaten down some by other events but it is these days that all sorts of admirals and academicians are trying to answer the questions journalists and environmentalists pampered them with without success.

Vice Admiral Mikhail Barskov announced in Brussels at the press conference organized by the Foundation Kursk that the Russian military does not rule out the possibility that some live missiles may still be near the first compartment. The military estimates the chances of finding them at fifty-fifty. When the operation was just beginning, all officials guaranteed that the first compartment did not have live torpedoes anymore.

Andrei Zolotkov, leader of the Murmansk subdivision of the Norwegian organization Belluna: All of that is strange. By the way, something like that is happening around the reactors as well. We were told at first that the reactors had been shut down. These days we hear that some unpredictable situations may develop. For example, the reactors may be still active.

An analysis of all official statements (the only ones available) reveals a fairly interesting picture. The organizers of the operations began talking about safety right on the eve of the operation. The head of the expedition Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak announced bluntly that the Dutch side is not ready for a serious discussion of the matter. All of that looks like a clumsy attempt to shift all responsibility and blame on the partner.

Zolotkov: All of that is worrying. Why absolute confidence at first, and veiled doubts now? So far as I know, most Norwegian experts do not think that the operation will be completed this year.

Judging by how cautious the admirals have become, the military is of the same frame of mind.

When in Brussels, Barskov revealed a figure, which may well have become a small sensation had the circumstances been different. Official cost of the operation in the Barents Sea is estimated at $130 million, not $65 million.

The barge AMT-Carrier is expected at the site of the tragedy today, and the cutting on the Kursk will begin. Foreign divers and some Mayo crewmembers have already been replaced. Russian divers have not, and it is the Russians who will have to do the most dangerous part of the job – get the cutting equipment down and remove the debris and remnants of the torpedoes if necessary.

P.S. Norwegian general public is worried. The Belluna bought a small ship the other day. Specialists say that it will be used to conduct an independent ecological monitoring close to the area of the salvaging operation.

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