NORTHERN FLEET GENERALS: ARE THEY TRULY GUILTY?

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Vladimir Georgiyev Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 4, 2001, p. 3

President Putin met with Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov last Saturday, for an update on the Kursk submarine investigation. Observers were not particularly surprised when heads started to roll. But many are saying that these people are only scapegoats; the public is still skeptical

Observers were not particularly surprised when heads started to roll (several top officers of the Northern Fleet were discharged) after President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov last Saturday, where Ustinov updated him on the Kursk investigation. The investigation had lasted over a year with nothing to show for it until now. Well, the powers-that-be have found some scapegoats. Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin says, however, that “the staff decisions have nothing to do with the submarine disaster. They were made on the basis of analysis of the situation in the Northern Fleet.”

In the meantime, all 14 officers and generals sacked this weekend had something to do with organization of the exercise during which the disaster occurred or with the rescue effort. Northern Fleet Commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, Chief-of-Staff Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak resigned. The rest of the officers whose careers are over are chiefs of combat training directorates of the Navy and Northern Fleet (vice admirals Mikheev and Boyarkin), chiefs of rescue services of the Navy and Northern Fleet (Rear Admiral Gennadi Verich and Captain 1st Class Alexander Teslenko), chiefs of exploitation directorates (rear admirals Valery Parfenov and Vladimir Khandobin), and almost all commanders of the flotilla of which the Kursk was a fighting element.

Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroyedov says that all these officers were dismissed for serious flaws “at all levels of the command system and… organization of training-combat activities.”

The public, both military and civilian, thinks otherwise. Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Vladislav Putilin announced recently that a great many emergencies and accidents in the Army and Navy should be attributed to systematic underfunding – the equipment is aging, and personnel are working under considerable stress. Politicians and Duma deputies, including Andrei Nikolayev, Chairman of the Defense Committee of the lower house, are of the same opinion.

Until recently, almost the whole budget of the Navy (90%) was spent on salaries. These days, 40% is spent on technical maintenance. The combat composition of the Navy is down to 50% of what it was a decade ago. Almost 60% of vessels have served over two-thirds of their expected lifetimes. This situation is to remain as it is until 2005, after which most money will be spent on technical maintenance of vessels. And 2003 will be the year of the lowest defense spending in Vladimir Putin’s presidency, only 2.59% of the GDP. Sequestration is not ruled out, so even that figure may actually be lowered. This means that further emergencies and accidents may occur.

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