THE COVER STORY

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Vladimir Semiryaga Moskovsky Komsomolets, November 15, 2001, p. 2

The state commission and independent experts agree that everything began with a torpedo explosion in Compartment One of the Kursk. This is the point where opinions start to diverge

Everyone would like to know what caused the Kursk disaster in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000. The bulk of the information already available enables people to make different constructions depending on individual experience, training, knowledge, emotions, rank, and intuition.

What the state commission and independent experts agree on, however, is that everything began with a torpedo explosion in Compartment One.

This is the point where opinions start to diverge. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, for example, doesn’t rule out the possibility of collision with some object as the cause of the explosion. Experts say the torpedo might have blown up because of human error in some sort of emergency situation. It then becomes a question of the skill of the crew. This theory is the most damaging for the Navy and carries the possibility that some heads may roll. To say nothing of the blow to the prestige of the Russian Navy as such.

The Kursk had returned from two months in the Mediterranean not long before the tragedy. The submarine visited every part of the Mediterranean, and NATO surveillance missed it entirely. There is more to it than mere luck. This is proof of the skill of the crew. The men on board the Kursk were true specialists. Captain Gennadi Lyachin was on the way to becoming a Hero of Russia for that expedition. By August 2000, however, half of the Kursk’s personnel had been replaced.

The mysterious sinking of the submarine might be explained by the contents of Lyachin’s conversation with the Northern Fleet command post. So it is not necessary to turn what remains of the submarine upside down looking for recording devices. A few questions to the man with whom Lyachin spoke will suffice. Who is that man? Only one thing is known for a fact – he is from what is known as the top brass.

It would also be helpful to bear in mind that the exercise drilled in the Barents Sea in August 2000 was not routine. To be more exact, the situation in the Navy was not routine. The Navy was awaiting significant reshuffles. Navy Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov successfully defended his views in President Vladimir Putin’s presence. It was a period what the then-Defense Minister Igor Sergeev was about to be dismissed – and everyone knew it. It was a period when the matter of his successor was foremost in everyone’s mind. Kuroyedov was on the list of potential successors.

Kuroyedov’s promotion would have sparked staff changes in the whole naval command hierarchy. Northern Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov was considered a candidate for the post of chief of the Navy General Staff, Chief Andrei Kravchenko a candidate for Navy commander-in-chief. Mikhail Motsak, chief of the Northern Fleet staff, might have become fleet commander.

The Kursk’s inadequate performance in the shooting exercise or its cancellation altogether 1) would have necessitated chances in the tactical plan of the maneuvers and, 2) might have generated speculations among Kuroyedov’s enemies that the Navy was not as well-trained as he had pretended all along. “What kind of defense minister will he make?” This question would have been asked before long as well. It should be noted that Ukrainian and Belarussian servicemen were involved as well.

Some experts consider that along with the attempts to find out what really happened to the Kursk, attempts of a wholly different nature are being undertaken as well. This concerns the diligent attempts to shape a theory which will be pronounced afterwards as the official explanation. Something that will suit everyone – the authorities, the Navy, the general public, producers of the torpedo, and relatives of the Kursk crew. Heads are not going to roll, despite the expectations of the naive public.

Objectively, the decision to postpone the operation in which fragments of Compartment One will be lifted until 2002 confirms the suspicions. Leaders of the nation are true to their word – the submarine has been salvaged. Financial promises to relatives have been kept. The Naval command has shown its prowess in the salvage operation. In the year that remains emotions and interest in the matters will go down because general public will surely have found new attractions and perhaps even the new Kursks.

Moreover, some nuances indicate that the salvage operation in the Barents Sea was just a smoke-screen. The powers-that-be might have been after something else. Firstly, there are documents indicating that the Duma, the Federation Council, the Cabinet, and the Navy have been exchanging letters since 1999. The matter concerns the failure to implement the defense order pertaining to repairs of cranes used to unload missiles from nuclear submarines. The defense order was never implemented, and the Northern Fleet encountered problems with unloading.

Secondly, the Kursk returned from the Arctic station it patrolled in May 2000. At least one nuclear warhead is usually taken to stations like that. It may have never been unloaded, due to the problems with cranes.

Thirdly, it is also possible that the nuclear missile is among those that have not been unloaded in Roslyakovo. Hence the decision not to unload it so close to Murmansk (400,000 residents), but at Nerpa, located in a less populous area.

And finally, I refuse to believe that the authorities are prepared to part with $160 million only to see some crewmembers properly buried.

What is really scary about all this is not that society will never know the truth. What is scary is that the powers-that-be do not yet know what kind of Armed Forces Russia needs. Hence humiliated servicemen, hence the pointed indifference to the problems of the Army and Navy. Hence all the emergency situations and crimes.

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