COMMANDER MAY BE CHANGED

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Alexander Plotnikov Novye Izvestia, September 29, 2001, p. 2

Admiral Vyacheslav Popov may be replaced.

Serious changes are in the wind. For the time being, the Northern Fleet is concentrated on the operation in the Barents Sea. All changes are scheduled after the operation. Strange as it may appear, the first indications of the upcoming changes came from Vladivostok. The Pacific Fleet Military Council will discuss the promotion of Vice Admiral Konstantin Sidenko, Troops and Forces Commander of Northeast Russia, in the near future. Our sources at the Pacific Fleet headquarters say that orders came from Moscow to prepare documents for Sidenko’s promotion to Northern Fleet commander.

Of course, it is hard at this point to say for a fact that Sidenko will be transferred from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Severomorsk. Sidenko has been commander of the Kamchatka Group, a structural element of the Pacific Fleet, for only a year. It takes documents at least a month to reach the final destination, the presidential desk. The high command may change its mind. Besides, ships of the Northeast Russia group lost two missiles, a Progress and a Granit, in the latest exercise in the Achinsk Strait. Their engines malfunctioned and the missiles fell in the water. Ships have been looking for them for two weeks, to salvage and find out what happened, but do not have anything to show for their effort.

Of course, Sidenko is not the only choice. Somebody else may be chosen to replace Vyacheslav Popov. It is, however, clear beyond the shadow of doubt that renovation of the upper echelons of the Northern Fleet is in the wind. Popov himself (the man under whom the worst catastrophe in the history of the Navy took place) has never tried to shift the blame on anybody else. Officers of his rank are automatically responsible for everything that happened with ships or subordinates.

There is more to Popov’s impending resignation than the moral motives. Kremlin’s political technologists will probably split their propaganda into pre-Kursk and post-Kursk periods. The latter one will begin some time after the Kursk has been lifted and brought to the dry dock. It is not a coincidence that the commissioning of the new nuclear submarine Gepard into the Northern Fleet is postponed again. The submarine has already been tested; civilian specialists left it, and were replaced with the crew. The Gepard is not moored to the Sevmash piers in Severodvinsk.

Vladimir Putin once visited the Gepard. It was in September 1999 when Putin was the premier. In principle, he should personally bless the new ship and its crew.

Our sources at the Navy Main Command assume that the president will make some “important statements” in his address to the Gepard crew. They will concern the naval policy of the state and the dramatic changes planned in the Navy.

The circumstances therefore require a man not burdened by previous mistakes or tragedies. Sidenko from the Kamchatka is a perfect choice. He is an experienced submariner as well. Sidenko participated in 19 sorties; he commanded a nuclear submarine and the 45th Submarine Division. All of that makes him a fine candidate.

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