THE KURSK SUBMARINE: A YEAR AFTER THE TRAGEDY

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By Vadim Solovyov Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 11, 2001, p. 1

August 12 marks the first anniversary of the sinking of the submarine Kursk. Admiral Eduard Baltin gives his views on the current situation of the Navy in the light of last year’s tragedy. He also discussed productive approaches to military planning and development (WPS summary).

August 12 marks the first anniversary of the sinking of the submarine Kursk. The submarine is still at the bottom of the Barents Sea, and the Staff of the Navy isn’t say much about the safety of divers at work on the salvage operation. Admiral Eduard Baltin comments here on the Kursk situation. In 1991-92, Baltin headed the Naval Strategic Research Department at the General Staff Academy. In 1993-96, he was commander of the Black Sea Fleet.

Question: A year has passed since the Kursk submarine disaster. Has your opinion about the cause of the sinking changed?

Eduard Baltin: Such disasters rarely have only one cause. I said a year ago that the main cause was a collision, and I stand by this opinion. However, the consequences of this collision alone could not have led to such a terrible disaster. Some other factors also played a role, including the human factor.

Question: Do you mean everything depends on the crew and its readiness?

Baltin: I do mean that. I won’t say much on this topic, but I believe that any profession involves some risk. This risk played a noticeable role in this disaster. There were also some construction faults. Besides, the objectives of those combat exercises were disproportional to the combat-readiness of the crew.

Question: What do you think of the work of the government commission? Has it done everything possible, or could it do something more to help the relatives of the Kursk sailors?

Baltin: Such incidents do happen occasionally, all over the world. And government commissions have never found out their causes. For instance, in 1963 and 1968, two American nuclear submarines sank. After the first sinking the government commission investigated for five years, and then the next commission started work. However, the sinking of the Kursk got more media coverage than any other such disasters.

Question: Will the reasons for the disaster ever be disclosed?

Baltin: The main point is that the commission cannot trace details of the disaster. It doesn’t possess the basic information. I don’t think this information will be gained after the submarine is raised. As for leaving the first compartment on the seabed, I think this is fair, and I’ve spoken about it already. I’m sure nothing will happen to the reactor, either on the seabed or during the salvage operation. It is necessary to cut away the first compartment in order to eliminate any risk to the safety of the divers.

Question: The president recently signed the Naval Doctrine, and the problems of the Navy are among its priorities. The doctrine calls for establishing a Naval Board which will be subordinate to the Cabinet and supervised by the president. What is your opinion of these innovations?

Baltin: There was a naval board in the days of the Russian Empire. At that time it consisted of the most experienced admirals and had an advisory role. The board was involved not only in the development of the Navy, but also handled issues of appointment and service of senior Navy officials. The board had great influence over the Navy. However, I fear that now this will be a different kind of agency. I think some people will be employed by the Naval Board, but their positions will not correspond to their skills.

Question: Will the Naval Doctrine help avoid such tragic events as the sinking of the Kursk in the future?

Baltin: It is impossible to guarantee that such disasters will never happen again.

Question: Has the Kursk disaster been a lesson for the authorities of the Navy?

Baltin: I don’t think it has. In fact, there is no development of the Navy in Russia now. Marshal Dmitry Ustinov, former Soviet defense minister, accused the Navy of “globalism”. He meant that the USSR started to build ships that were too large, too expensive, and unnecessary for the nation at that time. Thus, the economy, military necessity, and military reasoning came into conflict then. This was a very wise conclusion.

Question: Is the Navy suffering from the outcomes of that policy now?

Baltin: Now it is necessary to approach these issues very carefully. Economic capacities, military necessity, and military reasoning should be balanced.

Question: What kind of underwater fleet does Russia need today?

Baltin: Fleets should differ from each other, since each has its own special geographical and geopolitical situation. Of course, this also depends on the objectives formulated by the senior political authorities. The composition of the Armed Forces is not an end in itself for military development. This should be appropriate to the nation’s strategy of international relations, and to possible threats. The state should have soem long-range forecasts in the fields of foreign policy, domestic policy, and defense policy.

Question: Who do you think should prepare these forecasts?

Baltin: In theory, these forecasts should be prepared by the nation’s top authorities, e.g. the Security Council. A development strategy for the Armed Forces should be produced by Parliament, the Cabinet, and the president. At present, military development seems to be chaotic: it is guided by inertia, and this process started back in the Soviet era.

Question: Does the funding allocated to the Navy correspond to its actual needs?

Baltin: Senior authorities of the government should determine that. However, it is not clear as yet what kind of Navy the government wants.

Question: What do you think about the state’s assistance to families of the Kursk sailors?

Baltin: There had been many disasters in Russia before the sinking of the Kursk, but the state had never paid so much attention to helping families of the victims. This has caused a certain amount of envy in the Navy milieu.

Question: Do you think the president has seriously started thinking about the future of the Navy and the Armed Forces in general?

Baltin: I think President Putin has drawn some serious conclusions about the state of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Forces. There have been a lot of aviation disasters too. It is worth noting what the president said: “It’s time to stop blaming the human factor alone.” That is very important.

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