CORRUPTION ACCOMPANIES RAISING OF THE KURSK

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Alexei Smirnov Novye Izvestia, February 16, 2002, pp. 1, 2

Norwegian experts have concluded that Russian authorities did their best to limit the access of journalists to information about raising the Kursk submarine, thus furthering corruption surrounding this project. Journalists had to bribe Russian officials to get information from them.

The tragic story of the submarine Kursk is over, but details disclosing illegal actions of Russian authorities during the recovery operation continue to come out. The news coverage of this project has been discussed at a seminar in the Norwegian town of Alte. Norwegian experts came to the conclusion that Russian authorities did their best to limit the access of journalists to information about the project, thus furthering the corruption surrounding this project.

Norwegian Vice Admiral in retirement Einar Skurgen has announced in his interview to the Norwegian radio company NRK, “The public learnt as much about this operation, as journalists could afford to buy information.” After the sinking of the Kursk Einar Skurgen headed the salvage operation on the Norwegian side, and during the recovery operation, being in retirement already, he worked as chief of the pres service of the diving company DSND Subsea. He has also said, “The Russian authorities was trying to control all information about the work, although they did not know many important details of the operation, especially about the underwater work. The informational secrecy and inaccuracy of official reports led to the fact that a market of purchase and sale of information and photo shots was formed.”

We have contacted Mr. Skurgen and asked him about the most vivid examples of corruption in the course of the recovery operation. The vice admiral cited one of them: “The Russian authorities did not want journalists to openly observe the operation. As a result, Russian military helicopters transported Norwegian journalists from Murmansk to the Norwegian divers’ ship Mayo. Norwegian journalists had to pay for these trips a lot of money. They were also practically deprived of a chance to take photos. At the same time, photos of the work were sold by the Russian side.

Over 800 journalists from many countries covered this operation, but the Russian secrecy compelled them to obtain information by unworthy methods.

Oinstein Bugen, a correspondent with the Norwegian TV-2 channel, recalls: “A lot of journalists gathered on the shore, but they were given information in homeopathic doses. Therefore, journalists from large media companies had to buy information. There is a special culture of bribery in Russia. Foreign journalists had to pay up to $3,000 for exclusive information.”

In the opinion of Chairman of the Norwegian Council of Journalists Ulav Nyaastad, closing the access to the information that ought to have been open and free, Russian authorities corrupted journalists, who are to be on guard of open society.

Talking with Mr. Skurgen, I asked him what other actions of Russian authorities hurt him along with corruption. He highlighted the announcements that sailors of the submarine could not have been rescued after the catastrophe because they had lived only for a few hours after the sinking of the Kursk. The vice admiral noted, “Even if it is true, they should not have highlighted this issue justifying their blunders in the course of the salvage operation. When Norwegian rescue workers were moving toward the sunken submarine, no one knew how long the sailors could survive. We were hoping to rescue them… Who knows – maybe if the Russian side had not been preparing so long -“

When asked if any new details shedding light on the cause of the catastrophe were found in the course of the operation, Mr. Skurgen said, “Everything proved that this catastrophe had been caused by an explosion of a torpedo. So our initial suppositions were proved.”

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