Vadim Solovyov Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 14, 2000, pp. 1, 2

The truth about the Kursk disaster will not be released until the replacement of the acting authorities guilty of the catastrophe

In the military garrison of Vidyaevo December 12 Vyacheslav Popov, Commander of the Northern Fleet, presented decorations on the behalf of Russian president to relatives of the crew of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk. The entire 118-man crew has been decorated with the Award for Courage, but only the relatives of 31 crewmen who reside in Vidyaevo received the award at this ceremony. President Purin will personally present the Hero of Russia Award to Irina Lyachina, widow of the submarine’s commander. The December 12 event did not take place without certain excesses: the relatives of the dead seamen expressed their indignation that those responsible for the tragedy have still not been determined and the cause of the disaster still has not been released. As the turmoil reached its highest pitch and certain relatives had carried out on stretchers after suffering heart attacks, Admiral Popov pointedly left.

Four months after the Kursk disaster Russian Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroedov for the first time has publicly accused the submarine’s designers. According to him, “It is unclear why exactly Russian submarines sink after underwater collisions given that our subs’ reported reserve buoyancy is 30%, compared to the 12% of US submarines.” The conclusion the Navy commander is driving at is clear: the Kursk disaster was caused by the technical imperfection of Russian submarines. Kuroedov criticized the Kursk’s designers in “Morskoi Sbornik” of all places, a magazine intended specially for Russian naval officers. This attempt to pin the blame on designers is far from illusory or ambiguous. At the same time, many veteran submarine officers have started lean towards the notion that the Kursk disaster was at least partially caused by the technical imperfection of the Russian Navy. Witnesses assert that somewhere between 1979 and 1981a Soviet nuclear-powered submarine barely escaped a catastrophe under the ice of the North Pole because of serious malfunctions in the autopilot. While cruising at a depth of 300 meters, the submarine in question spontaneously went into a dive. This change in course went completely unnoticed at first by the crew. The sub was cruising at some 36 knots (about 65 kilometers per hour). Experienced seamen claim that this speed “everything shakes and rattles, it is only in movies that submarines move about with the silence of a shark.” Only when the submarine’s bank reached 45 degrees and one of the onboard control devices ordered the propeller screws to reverse did the crew notice something was seriously wrong. By that time the sub had passed its maximum depth of 400 meters. The only things that allowed the craft survive were its threefold reserve buoyancy and the relatively deep seabed in that area.

The cause of the malfunction remains unknown. Veteran submariners, trained in the severe traditions of the Soviet times, never bring up this incident in the company of strangers, and the Navy command still considers this event confidential. If our sources have it right, the Kursk found itself in a similar situation, but ran out of time because the seabed at the site of its sinking is only slightly over 100 meters deep. According to this theory, the submarine collided not with another sub, but rather with much firmer matter, namely the granite Barents seabed. The potential results of this coincide with the official version of events: depressurization of chemical components in the engine of a torpedo which had been fed into one of the bow torpedo tubes, a fire in the first compartment, and the detonation of most of the sub’s ammunition after 2 minutes and 15 seconds (once the temperature exceeded 500 degrees Centigrade). The probability of this version is indirectly proven by the veil of secrecy the state investigation commission has pulled over the results of the inspection of 600 tons of fragments from the Kursk which were lifted from the seabed over a month ago. Even an amateur forensic scientist knows that a collision between two enormous metallic objects can easily be detected and proved using fairly simple laboratory tests. In addition, the traces of a collision go a long way towards establishing the time and force of impact, its direction, and even the composition of the impact-inflicting object. The state commission has been totally silent and has not been releasing even preliminary results of their tests. The entire situation is very strange. At the same time, the state commission continues to stick to the official version (a collision with a foreign submarine) and suspects the USS Memphis as the likely culprit. The most interesting thing here is that the Pentagon appears to be playing into Moscow’s official version -by refusing point-blank to produce its submarines for external examination. There are good reasons to believe that this position on the part of the US suits Moscow just fine. Furthermore, Russia is doing its best to preserve that position by instigating a certain tension into bilateral military relations. For example, it is unclear exactly motivated the Russian Navy’s operation to carry out a provocative naval reconnaissance raid against the USS Kitty Hawk. Inspection of the aircraft carrier’s anti-aircraft system? Not likely, since specialists have long since calculated how many naval bombers it would take to destroy an aircraft carrier. The only thing that would vary would be the concrete conditions of the battle: under more favorable circumstances Russia’s losses would be several aircraft fewer, that’s all. These figures are already well known.

What about the provocative gesture of sending the US aircraft carrier aerial photos taken over its own deck via e-mail? Or the recent scramble of strategic bombers at alternative airfields in the Far East- an operation last performed in 1993? All this bears a strong resemblance to a show of force. The Pentagon was forced to urgently launch intercept fighters. It is noteworthy that it was the Russian military command, not the US, which leaked information about the above events to the press. We might also point to the extremely harsh sentence given to Edmond Pope, the “American spy” who, according to the official version, inflicted huge monetary damage against the domestic defense industry. The Pope case is unclear in many aspects and contradictory, according to expert evaluations. In addition, it was tried in total secrecy. Naturally, in such circumstances the US would never allow Russia to inspect its submarines. Furthermore, top-ranking Russian Defense Ministry officials have ordered that a newspaper interview given by Einar Skorgen, a retired Norwegian admiral, be considered as part of the Kursk investigation. In this interview he stated that “something was wrong” with the submarine Memphis, which docked at the Bergen port in August 2000.

The hope that interest in the Kursk disaster will abate with time is absolutely futile. Society will not calm down until it is shown evidence of what really happened. However, it is likely that the true causes of the sinking will be released only once the top-ranking Russian authorities who have connections to the tragedy have been replaced. Given such an approach, even next summer, when the government is planning to lift the submarine – except for the first compartment, which is the most vital for establishing the cause of the tragedy – the truth about the disaster will likely become no clearer than it is now.