Krasnaya Zvezda, September 9, 2000, pp. 1-2

It is common knowledge that hundreds and hundreds of calls were made to the Defense Ministry when the battle for the submarine was underway. Callers wanted to know what had caused the disaster and offered their opinions on how submariners could be saved and the Kursk lifted from the seabed… Many callers were sharply critical. Critical or sympathetic, all of them wanted clear-cut answers and such answers were given. Colonel General Valery Manilov, Senior Deputy Chief of the General Staff, says that every answer was preceeded by a collosal job of sorting out actual facts, figures, and circumstances… The answers did not contain any guesses, conjenctures, or assumptions. All of them are based on hard fact.

We are featuring these questions and answers here. They give a thorough account of the whole battle for the submarine, they describe the unprecedented tragedy step by step. They make it absolutely clear that everything possible and impossible has been done.

Question: Why did the rescue effort began on Tuesday and was reported the following day? Why not on Saturday? When did the command determine what had happened to the submarine – accident, emergency, or disaster? Why were the first reports outright lies?

Answer: The fact is, the rescue operation did begin on Saturday, on August 12. When the Kursk failed to contact headquarters so as report the mission accomplished and the area of the combat training site cleared, the situation was gauged as a possible incident.

Later the Kursk failed to respond to the exercise commander’s directive (“Report your coordinates and condition” sent out at 1730 hours on August 12). As specified by regulations, at 2330 hours on August 12 the submarine was announced to have had an emergency. The fleet’s search-and-rescue forces were put an alert. They immediately left for the area where the Kursk was supposed to be and started looking for her. Acoustics of the cruiser Pyotr Veliky discovered the Kursk on the seabed at 0436 hours on August 13. At 1930 hours on August 13 deep-sea craft Priz from the rescue vessel Mikhail Rudnitsky sighted a submarine on the seabed. Reported to, Northern Fleet commander drew the conclusion that it must be the missing Kursk. Crew-rescue efforts began immediately.

The Kursk had been considered a submarine with an emergency until August 19 when additional data on her condition and damages provided by deep-sea craft was deciphered and analyzed. The data revealed extensive damage to the light and solid hulls, so extensive in fact that deaths of the crew appeared inevitable. Since then it was already viewed as a catastrophe, not an emergency.

When the Norwegian divers opened the lower hatch of Section Nine and found the section flooded, all doubts concerning the crew were dispelled.

All official statements concerning the Kursk, even the very first ones, tallied with conclusions drawn from the objective information available to the command at the moment.

Question: Could the submarine have been killed by the torpedo she herself launched?

Answer: Impossible. Practice torpedoes used in shooting exercises do not carry warheads. Even assuming the absolutely fantatic situation that a torpedo like that hit the Kursk, it would not have damaged the submarine significantly.

Question: Why was not the rescue buoy fired? Why was the damaged submarine so critically short of air?

Answer: Probably because the hull was deformed in the collision, in the impact when the Kursk struck the seabed, and in the explosion.

Question: Is it possible that the Kursk was hit by the friendlies, say the Pyotr Veliky, during the exercise? Or could the Pyotr Veliky have rammed the submarine?

Answer: No. The Pyotr Veliky did not fire any shots when the submarine was nearby. The cruiser was in an entirely different area when the disaster struck.

Question: How come the ocean-going nuclear submarine found itself in shallow waters and was forced to execute a dangerous maneuver?

Answer: She was performing the task at hand not in “shallow waters” but in the area with the depths exceeding 100 meters. Submarines have to drill combat training tasks throughout the whole diapasone of depths from the periscope down to the depths they consider optimal. All maneuvers are executed in accordance with specific conditions of the mission and technical parameters of the submarine.

Question: Why did the floating hospital Svir stay in Severomorsk instead of racing to the site of the disaster? It was not necessary or what?

Answer: There were ships and rescue vessels at the site of the disaster with specialists and equipment. In other words, they had everything they needed in order to give first aid to victims provided such turned up and to medevac them for stationary treatment to the Svir and other facilities.

Question: Why are submariners’ parents coming to the Northern Fleet being hidden from journalists?

Answer: As I see it, it is parents and other relatives of the Kursk submariners themselves who are avoiding journalists. This is probably the natural reaction of the persons worried about their relatives and stunned by their loss afterwards. Some journalists’ persistence and unceremoniousness is something they could do without.

Question: Is it true that there were 130 persons abroad the Kursk and not 118 as the first reports indicated?

Answer: No. There were 118 persons aboard the submarine at the moment of the catastrophe. This figure includes five staff officers of the formation headquarters assigned to the Kursk for the duration of the exercise, an officer representing the military certification commission, and a civilian specialist.

Question: Why was the rescue operation said to be impeded by the storm? There are no storms under the surface… Why the difference in weather reports at the site of the rescue operation provided by the military and meteorologists?

Answer: Deployment of the search-and-rescue services at the site began on August 13. According to meteorologists (whose data the military used, by the way), weather in the area was generally fine on August 12-14 (wind up to 5 meters a second, a force 1 waves with the height of up to half a meter). All of that allowed the Mikhail Rudnitsky to come to the site, deploy the deep-sea craft, and discover the submarine. Afterwards, deep-sea craft reported a strong current (2 knots) and poor visibility (up to 1 meter) at the bottom. These two factors complicated the work near the seabed enormously even though, as you say, there were no storms down there.

Weather deteriorated on August 15 (winds up to 16 meters a second, and a force 4 waves). Foul weather complicated the deployment of deep-sea craft, and one of them was even damaged. On August 18 the weather improved (wind up to 5 meters a second, a force 2 waves), and the operation command was able to deploy all deep-sea craft once again.

Question: The Northern Fleet command established a tight and illegitimate censorship. Why? To hide the truth?

Answer: There was no censorship there. This is either a hoax or a lie. All data available to the rescue operation command was immediately and regularly released to general public via Navy and Northern Fleet PR departments.

Apart from officials of the naval PR department, there was a camera crew of a state TV channel abroad the Pyotr Veliky. It regularly went on air with the latest reports.

The fact is, the whole rescue operation was covered in so thorough and open a manner as to be unprecedented in such disasters.

Question: What kind of scum are the staff officers who lined their pockets selling lists of submariners dying aboard the submarine?

Answer: If reports concerning such sales are true, men like that cannot be considered officers. Ranks and badges are not for scum. And the journalists offering a bribe for the lists (provided all of it did take place indeed) are not any better, in my opinion.

Question: Why did not the Navy command release the lists of submariners? [This editorial office had to buy them for a hefty sum of 18,000.]

Answer: Publication of the lists of submariners while the fate of every one of them remained unknown would have been tactless, wicked, and blasphemous. The lists were published as soon as we established that everybody in the submarine had died.

As for the so called purchase of the lists for “a bribe”, this is a crime (assuming it did take place, of couse). Let law enforcement agencies comment on it.

Question: When was the president informed of the tragedy? Shall the failure to inform him of the problem on Saturday be ascribed to disinclination to bother the vacating president?

Answer: When the Kursk failed to contact the base as specified by regulations, it was announced to have had an emergency at 2330 hours on August 12 (Saturday). The search gave the first results at about half past four next morning, on Sunday, when acoustics on the Pyotr Veliky discovered an object, presumably the Kursk, on the seabed 105-110 meters below the surface. A message was flashed to the central command post of the General Staff. It was reported to the defense minister who informed the president of the problem at 0700 hours on August 13, Sunday.

Question: What about Rescue Ranger Sergei Shoigu? Where was he? [He had actively participated in the rescue operation involving the submarine Komsomolets.]

Answer: Shoigu did not participate in the rescue operation involving the Komsomolets because the tragedy occurred in 1989 and the federal Emergency Ministry was established in 1993.

The Emergency Ministry does not have the means for evacuation of crews from submarines. The Navy alone has them.

Question: On Sunday, Day 2 of the tragedy, Northern Fleet commander optimistically told the media that the exercise had been a success and that the equipment and servicemen had performed beyond reproach. Why?

Answer: On August 13, Sunday, Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov was already in charge of the rescue operation aboard the Pyotr Veliky, too busy to give interviews. TV channels that day ran the interview recorded earlier when nobody, Popov included, had known anything about the catastrophe.

Question: Why did the Navy command gave its silent consent and authorised unprepared surface combatants and submarines to leave their bases? It shoold have screamed bloody murder appealing to general public and demanding amelioration of the Navy condition.

Answer: Let us leave the theses on “the silent consent” and “screaming” aside as having absolutely nothing to do with the actual state of affairs. A public and destructive discussion of the problems of combat readiness is completely out of place.

As for the Kusk, it was a fighting element of the permanent combat readiness forces. Which means that its weapons systems and equipment were in order and the crew properly trained.

Question: Why did the Navy commander took over the rescue operation only on Thursday?

Answer: Popov was direcly in charge of the rescue efforts at the site in accordance with regulations and procedures of rescue missions. Navy Commander Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov commanded the operation from the central command post of the General Staff. With the defense minister’s permission, he flew over to the Northern Fleet on August 17.

Question: When everybody was telling general public that the submariners were still alive and that we had everything we needed for their rescue in the first days of the tragedy, Kuroyedov was quoted as saying that chances of a successful completion of the operation were slim. Why?

Answer: It was a professional speaking, remember. In Kuroyedov’s opinion, if so reliable a submarine had gone down, it must have sustained critical damage.

This statement was not an easy one to make. Unfortunately, Kuroyedov turned out to be correct.

Question: Why did Kuroyedov say at first that the air in the Kursk would last until August 18 and then until August 25? Why did the military conceal the fact of the tragedy playing it close to the chest for twenty-four hours even though the tragedy occurred in rather shallow waters in the course of an exercise and not in some ocean depth in an autonomous sortie? Perhaps, somebody is using the rescue operation to bury some facts for good? Why were the divers sent to the Kursk if the command had known from the very beginning that there was nobody alive there to rescue?

Answer: Exact coordinates of the Kursk were established at about 2000 hours on August 13. The media reported the disaster at 1100 hours on August 14. The rescue operation continued while there was a hope that there was at least one survivor. It became abolutely clear that this was a no-survivors type of disaster only when Section Nine was opened and found flooded. That was when all hopes died.

As for the authors of the disgusting terms like “burying facts” or “why bother if there are no survivors down there”, I would not envy them had they come face to face with sailors, rescue teams, or submariners’ families.

Question: If the submariners were dead and we witnessed a grandiose hoax, what could it be needed for? And who is to be blamed for it? Perhaps, all of it is but a monstrous experiment?

Answer: All these hysterical accusations of “hoaxes” and “monstrous experiments” merely show that some journalists get carried away. No more, no less.

Such innuendo is particularly shamelss and amoral in the face of self-sacrificing efforts of hundreds and thousands and in the face of general public’s earnest hopes that everything would turn out right in the end.

Question: For seven days after the disaster the Navy command repeated that there were survivors in the submarine and only when NATO rescue teams were hours away did it flatly announce that everybody abroad the Kusk had died. Why did it take Minister Sergeev and Deputy Premier Klebanov ten days to admit in public that 80 per cent of submariners had died within three minutes after the explosion in the torpedo section? When did the command become convinced that most sections of the Kursk had been flooded and the submariners had probably perished?

Answer: There is no connection between conclusions concerning the tragic outcome of the disaster and approaching NATO specialists. All information obtained in examinations of the Kursk by our deep-sea craft was thoroughly and systematically deciphered and analyzed by the evening of August 18. When the commission evaluated the nature and seriousness of the damage to the hull, the conclusion was drawn that the aft sections were wrecked and flooded, stern sections were wrecked and possibly flooded as well and all of that made chances for survival infinitesimal. When Section Nine was found flooded, the question of possible survivors was answered.

And only then Ilya Klebanov as chairman of the governmental commission did his duty and officially pronounced the crew dead.

Question: Why do Americans insist that the disaster must have been a result of sloppy maneuvering?

Answer: You should ask them. As for the hypothesis that the submarine had made a mistake maneuvering in the combat training area, it was contemplated by the governmental commission. A whole number of objective nuances and factors indicates that this possibility can be ruled out.

Question: Why did it take Russia so long to accept foreign assistance?

Answer: All offers of assistance from foreign states were accepted with gratitude.

The first such offers were made by the Norwegian Embassy and NATO General Secretary George Robertson on August 14 in the evening. The following day we expressed our gratitude and willingness to accept help through our representatives in Norway and at NATO. The major criteria were as follows: technical compatibility of the systems, their expected effectiveness under the circumstances, and exactly when they could be made available.

Therefore priority was given to offers from Great Britain and Norway. They were told to go ahead immediately.

Other countries (Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden) mostly offered medical gear for divers (decompression chambers and medicines), doctors, and technicians. Moreover, the United States offered their deep-sea craft with the crew capable of lifting up to 20 men and a team of divers. Italy offered five divers. We already had an agreement with Great Britain and Norway by then and when we considered the time it would have taken to ship these means and specialists to the Barents Sea, we put American and Italian offers of assistance on hold, to be turned to and made use of whenever the need arose. And rescue services of the Northern Fleet were working all this time without a break.

Question: Why did Moscow withhold the permission to airlift foreign rescue teams by a transport AN-124 right to Severomorsk?

Answer: A permission like that was not necessary. Airlifting foreign rescue teams to the site was pointless without all their gear and equipment which included rescue ships – the Normann Pioneer with the submarine LR-5 and the Seawell Eagle with deep-sea diving gear. They left the naval base in Norway as soon as they were ready, raced flat out to the site of the rescue operation, and were there on the night of August 20.

Question: The West distrusts the assurances that the Kursk did not carry nuclear weapons and that radiation background around her will remain normal. Did the Kursk carry nuclear weapons?

Answer: Let us not generalize. It is authors of some publications and commentaries who “distrust”. They are trying to present the Kursk disaster as something apocalyptic either because of ill will or motivated by some fiscal interests (or perhaps because of plain incompetence).

The men who know what they are talking about – politicians, specialists, professionals, and the military – know for a fact that the Kursk does not have nuclear weapons aboard. They also know that the radiation background at the site of the catastrophe is within theestablished norm. All national and international organizations monitoring the environment confirm it.

Question: Since it turns out that the submariners could have been helped by several Norwegian divers, what did the Russian military go to NATO to discuss something at such length for?

Answer: Norwegian divers could not help the submariners.

First and foremost, it was impossible because effective help necessitates availability of special rescue means and specifically deep-sea craft capable of docking to the submarine. Divers could only examine the submarine’s own rescue facilities and fix something manually, i.e. facilitate deployment of the special rescue means. Secondly, it takes four to five days to prepare the system which makes it possible for divers to operate.

It means that even had the Norwegians been involved in the rescue effort from the moment of establishment of the Kursk’s coordinates (1930 hours on August 14), they would not have helped us to save the submariners. They could not have gone down to the submarine before August 18, and as it turned out, the deadline in the Kursk approached on August 14 at the latest.

Russian representatives came to Brussels on August 19 and returned from there on August 19 after some urgent professional consultations over compatibility of technical systems, exchange of technical documentation and all necessary information, and talks over practical organization of a joint rescue effort. The Normann Pioneer and the Seawell Eagle departed the Tronheim naval base in Norway on August 17.

So as to train Norwegian and British rescue teams, our specialits flew over to Tronheim and worked with the Norwegians and British abroad the Normann Pioneer and the Seawell Eagle during their race to the operation site.

To a considerable extent, Norwegian divers owe their successful performance to professional assistance from our sailors and to the fact that absolutely all information on the disaster and conditions on site was made available to foreigns specialists.

Question: US Secretary of Defense did not get an answer to his offer of help. Why?

Answer: Russian Defense Minister Marshal Sergeev had an answer sent to William Cohen as soon as the letter from him arrived.

Here is the text of the answer.

Moscow, August 17, 2000

I deeply appreciate the readiness to render assistance and support in the rescue operation concerning the submarine Kursk of the Northern Fleet.

I deeply appreciate the readiness to render assistance and support in the rescue operation concerning the submarine Kursk of the Northern Fleet.

A Norwegian ship with a British rescue submarine abroad is already sailing to the rescue operation site. Preparations to transportation of a team of Norwegian diving specialists with all necessary equipment are being completed.

It will therefore be advisable to accept Your offer of assistance depending on results of our joint actions with rescue teams from Norway and Great Britain.

You are undoubtedly aware of the fact that consultations over cooperation in the rescue effort and over organizational and technical issues are taking place at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Your instructions to US representatives in Brussels to participate in the work within the context of Your offer will be expedient.

Your condolences and offer of help are deeply appreciated.

Respectfully Yours, I. Sergeev

Military attache of the Russian Embassy in the United States promptly informed Undersecretary of Defense E. Warner and H. Shelton of the JCS of the message.

Question: Was it possible to save the crew? Whose fault is it that the chance was missed, if it was? Will foreigns specialists be able to lift the bodies to the surface?

Answer: The final conclusions will be drawn by the commission.

The whole bulk of the information we have collected, including the data obtained in the international phase of the operation, indicates that the chances were virtually nonexistent.

Extensive damage to the submarine which apparently resulted from the collision (a dynamic blow) and detonation of torpedoes in the submarine when she hit the bedrock killed most of the crew within a minute or two. What few submariners might have survived in the stern could not last long because these sections were flooded soon.

Self-sacrifices, professionalism, and teamwork alowed us to begin attempts to get the crew out of the Kursk on August 14 in the morning. Operation command and all participants went on hoping against all odds and worked as though driven.

Deformation of the comings-area and damage sustained by the emergency hatch of Section Nine (they were established on August 19 to 21 in the course of a thorough examination of the hull by Russian craft and confimed by Norwegian divers later) prevented rescue craft from docking to the submarine and therefore divers from entering the Kursk.

Nevertheless, attempts to dock to the Kursk and save the submariners continued until August 21 when the lower hatch of Section Nine was opened and the airlock beyond found flooded. It became clear then that hoping for survivors had unfortunately been groundless.

We are actively contemplating the option of an international operation at the Kursk so as to lift the bodies.

Question: Why did the Russian search-and-rescue services turn out to be so helpless? How come Norwegian divers needed twenty-four hours to accomplish what all our search-and-rescue services had failed to accomplish in a week? And what did the command mean saying that it had everything necessary to rescue the crew?

Answer: Such offensive definition of our search-and-rescue services is uncalled for, groundless, and inadvisable.

Our rescue services have done everything possible and impossible. The Kursk, however, had sustained extensive damage which deformed its light and solid hulls and made docking to emergency hatches impossible. Despite complicated conditions, deep-sea craft executed nine touchdowns. They could not fix the position and enter the submarine because of deformation of the comings-area and serious damage to the Section Nine emergency hatch which were established beyond the shadow of doubt only on August 19-21.

What the Norwegians did could not save the submariners because a deep-sea craft had to be docked and fixed to the submarine for the rescue to be a success. Even had British and Norwegian divers set out for the site on August 14, when their governments offered assistance to Russia, they would have been able to begin the actual rescue – objectively – only four or five days later, i.e. on August 17 or 18.

We know now that there were no survivors in the Kursk by then.

When the command said it had everything needed for the rescue, it meant that the Northern Fleet had all means for search-and-rescue operations applicable to the whole spectrum of predicted emergencies.

As it turned out, the Kursk encountered a disastrous situation whose specific nuances have yet to be studied and taken into consideration. It is already clear, however, that they are well beyond the physical and technical conditions which define the parameters of search-and-rescue structures and means.

Question: Has the Kursk collided with a British submarine? Can it be that this information “leaked” from military circles is needed as an evasive maneuve, as something diverting attention of the general public from the theory that the cause of the disaster should be sought in the nuclear submarine Kursk itself? Why all this silence? Was it professional shame that prevented the military from telling Putin that it had overlooked a foreign submarine in the exercise area? Or is Putin himself ashamed to admit that his pal Blair is involved?

Answer: Preliminary evaluations of the governmental commission which studied all available data related to the disaster show that the major hypothesis is this – the catastrophe was caused by an external or detonating internal blow when the Kursk was 16 to 18 meters below the surface. The collision probably was with an underwater object which was impossible to detect under the circumstances.

This is the official position aired as soon as the first objective data on the condition of the Kursk and the nature of the damage to the submarine became available. And besides, our official military sources have never identified the underwater object by the country.

As for the so called “leaks from military circles”, “evasive maneuvering” and other innuendo with foregone conclusions, let them remain on their authors’ conscience.

Question: Will the money raised for the special assistance trust get to submariners’ families?

Answer: It will. It is actually getting there already. The families received savings books with 720,000 rubles on every individual account. They are paid 120 salaries in accordance with the Law “On servicemen’s status” and 25 salaries worth of compensation from the Military Insurance Company. Moreover, a special Russian Trust of assistance to submariners’ families was set up. The Savings Bank opened special individual accounts in all submariners’ names to which donations may be sent directly. A transparent control system and observation councils are operating whenever money is raised.

Question: A serviceman has to die, does not he, before his impoverished family gets proper flats and money from the state?

Answer: No flats or money wll compensate for the lost husband, father, or son. We had better remember it.

As for the living conditions, they are difficult indeed and are absolutely incompatible with the social import, responsibility, professionalism, and dangers inherent in the military service.

Improvement of the conditions and upper social status of servicemen are among the priorities of the military construction program determined by the president and implemented by the government.

Question: How can we save those who amassed on the jetties awaiting return of the Kursk? How psychological assistance to these persons can be rendered? Urgent psychological assistance is something rescue specialists also need. They risked their lives time and again trying to get to the Kursk and all to no avail.

Answer: Availability of this assistance was arranged for as soon as the rescue operation began. All appropriate forces of the Northern Fleet, Navy, Defense Ministry, and Murmansk were mobilized. The best specialists from other regions of the country flew over to the Vidyaevo base. Everybody who awaited the Kursk back, all submariners’ relatives, were in the center of sympathetic attention of officers, warrant officers, and their families. Qualified medical and psychological help was available on the round-the-clock basis to them and to everybody directly involved in the rescue operation.

These days, assistance to submariners’ families is the bailiwick of the governmental commission under Deputy Premier Valentina Matvienko.

Question: Will the Kursk be lifted from the seabed? Is it technically possible?

Answer: It is technially possible to lift the submarine. The decision to get it out has been made. The best specialists in the country are working on the project now. Services of foreign specialists were enlisted as well. We appealed to every structure with experience in this sphere to participate in the planned operation.

Question: Do you think Russia is capable of maintaining and using the nuclear ships it inherited from the Soviet Navy? It is a wonder that they are still afloat…

Answer: It is capable of it. We have both the qualified personnel and appropriate infrastructure for it. Of course, maintenance and use of the fleet, nuclear-powered included, requires proper funding. Finances being scarce, combat composition of the Navy is down to one-third of what it used to be only several years ago. The president and the government are taking measures to improve the financial condition of the Army and Navy.

Question: Why does Russia stay away from international congresses on submarine security and submariners’ survival?

Answer: It is not so. Negotiations between Russian and American naval headquarters over security of underwater navigation took place on the initiative of the Russian Federation in 1993. The Russian delegation came up with a draft agreement between Moscow and Washington on the subject. Unortunately, this initiative was not backed up.

A working team of Russian and American specialists was set up within the NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program in 1999 and consultations over unification of naval rescue means began. Unfortunately, NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia suspended the process.

We intend to come up with the proposal to renew negotiations over security of underwater navigation and over mutual assistance in rescue operations.

Question: Shall we expect additional finances channelled into the Russian Armed Forces in the wake of the Kursk disaster?

Answer: It is up to the president, the government, and the Federal Assembly.

Question: Who is going to shoulder responsibility for the tragedy?

Answer: Leadership of the country and the Armed Forces.

Personally, the responsibility has been shouldered by Putin, Sergeev, Kuroyedov, and Popov.

Unlike the persons who seek to gain some populist dividends emphasizing their non-involvement and acidly commenting on the catastrophe, Putin, Sergeev, Kuroyedov, and Popov have been with the submariners’ relatives and brothers-in-arms sharing their grief and pain, talking to them face to face, and trying to help.

The president has done something without analogues in the latest history. Instead of turning up at the site of the tragedy as modern PR rules dictate (it earned him critique from moralists in the West), he went directly to the perished submariners’ widows, parents, and relatives. He was with them and talked to them that horrible night when it became apparent that nobody in the Kursk had survived.

This is what I call true responsibility.