CITY OF REMEMBRANCE: Marking the first anniversary of the Kursk sinking

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By Alexander Chuikov, Yevgeny Chubarov, Mikhail Rybianov Izvestia, August 13, 2001, pp. 1, 3

Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky says the governmental commission is still considering three major theories about why the Kursk sank. Rear Admiral Ilya Kozlov says the Navy’s search-and-rescue services have not improved. Submarine expert Mikhail Volzhensky is sure an American sub was involved (WPS summary).

A mourning ceremony has been held in the town of Vidayevo. The solemn ceremony began at 9 a.m. at the site where a monument will be erected to the 118 crewmembers who perished in the Kursk.

Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov, Northern Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov, and Murmansk Governor Yuri Yevdokimov attended the ceremony. Kuroyedov, an official who must know a great deal of what has been withheld from the general public about the disaster, said: “We all share the pain of the sinking of the Kursk. Getting to the bottom of the tragedy is the number one priority now, in order to prevent similar disasters in future. If we stop halfway to understanding, it would mean a step backward…”

Sergei Yastrzhembsky: Still the same three theories

It seems that the state has learned at least one lesson. All information on the salvage operation in the Barents Sea is the responsibility of presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky, one of the Kremlin’s most experienced political PR specialists.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky: In my view, considerably more information is available to the public now than a year ago. I’m not boasting, you understand, since I am responsible for all information on the Kursk at present. We have two websites operating, Russian and international. A media center will be established in Murmansk in early September, where over 1,000 accredited journalists will be working.

Question: What of the theories about what might have happened to the Kursk? Are there three current theories, as before?

Yastrzhembsky: Yes, the governmental commission is still considering three major theories, as its chairman Ilya Klebanov said. First: the Kursk hit an underwater mine. An unlikely occurrence, of course, but we cannot eliminate the possibility. Second: a collision with another underwater object. And third: a torpedo explosion.

Question: Do the families of the crew have any complaints against the state?

Yastrzhembsky: This is mostly the responsibility of the Navy, but in general, the state has kept all its promises to the crew’s families.

Question: When do you think the materials on the disaster are going to be declassified?

Yastrzhembsky: When the commission has completed its work, perhaps. I don’t even know if they are so very secret. To my knowledge, the commission is constantly in touch with the media. In any case, no materials should be published as long as the investigation continues. And by the way, most of the documents and materials the commission is working with are already known to the public.

Ilya Kozlov: This tragedy has not taught us anything

The big question is why the crew wasn’t rescued. This is an interview with Rear Admiral Ilya Kozlov, Chief of the Sea Search and Rescue Operations Service at the Emergency Ministry.

Question: Have there been any changes in the search-and-rescue services following the Kursk disaster?

Ilya Kozlov: After the Kursk sank, the government issued an order to draft a preliminary plan for restoring the search-and-rescue services. Several federal programs were suggested, but I don’t think anything has changed. The money initially allocated for these programs must have been spent on the salvage operation. Russian divers, those who are now working in the Barents Sea, have trained in Norway. Some more money was set aside for repairs and construction of new rescue ships. I don’t believe any new ships are being built. All in all, nothing has been done. The tragedy has not taught us anything. What we need is a common search-and-rescue center for the whole Navy. We don’t have one.

Question: How much would it cost to maintain a search-and-rescue service?

Kozlov: Several billion dollars a year, perhaps. We used to have entire classes of ships, whole brigades. At least some of them should be repaired, and construction of new ones begun. And we should not invent any new equipment; it would be better to buy it from abroad.

Mikhail Volzhensky: Russia’s naval school is dying

Mikhail Volzhensky, Captain 1st Rank (retired) has spent 27 years in submarines. As an official of the State Commission at the Navy, he personally tested the K-141 (the Kursk) in 1994. Its approval certificate bears his signature. After compiling all available data and information on the Kursk disaster, Volzhensky has come up with his own theory on what must have happened to the submarine.

Mikhail Volzhensky: There can be only one theory. The torpedo apparatus at the front of the submarine is essentially a steel pipe jutting out of the hull. A relatively slight impact on it would be enough to make the torpedo inside explode. There were no surface combat vessels in the area at the time of the explosion, and examination of Russian submarines did not reveal any damage. It follows that a foreign submarine must have been involved.

Question: NATO says its submarines did not approach the exercise area…

Volzhensky: Foreign submarines may be detected by surface warships, other submarines, or ASW aircraft. The USS Memphis was detected leaving the area. That’s a fact. According to official reports, three NATO submarines were monitoring the exercises the USS Memphis, the USS Toledo, and HMS Splendid. All these submarines differ in their combat capacities and ability to avoid the enemy. The Toledo is twice as good as the Memphis in this respect, and the Memphis is twice as good as the Splendid. They were chosen deliberately, in order to gauge the ASW capacities of the Russian Navy. The Toledo was engaged in compiling acoustical data. Its commander might have failed to take into account all the complexities of the underwater environment in the Barents Sea…

Question: And collided with the Kursk?

Volzhensky: In such a manner as to escape almost unscathed. I don’t rule out the possibility that the Kursk might have been alerted to the presence of a foreign submarine – the Toledo – in the vicinity, and was about to make a report. A foreign submarine in the vicinity ruins the whole firing exercise, you know. The Kursk went up to make contact, and the Toledo lost track of it for a moment. This is a well-known acoustic effect. The Toledo moved closer in order to regain contact with the target, and did so. Unfortunately, it was too late. The Toledo understood that the two submarines were on a collision course, and had to turn aside. That submarine’s rear stabilizer hit the Kursk’s torpedo apparatus. It was enough…

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