Vadim Saranov Versiya, April 24-30, 2001, p. 3

An unexplained incident with a nuclear submarine this month is symptomatic of the Navy’s general condition. Funding and fuel shortages are reducing skill levels and keeping ships at anchor. Despite what the admirals tell the government, the Navy is not “ready to carry out any mission”.

According to our sources, a nuclear submarine of the Northern Fleet was involved in an incident in the Barents Sea on April 14, 2001.

Our sources at the Navy Main Command and in Severomorsk say the nuclear submarine is attached to the 1st Flotilla of nuclear submarines of the Northern Fleet, with a base at Zapadnaya Litsa. Our sources cannot identify the nuclear submarine by name or number.

Five days later, “Krasnaya Zvezda”, the official newspaper of the Defense Ministry, ran an article entitled “Naval Command Exercise”.

Maneuvers are so infrequent nowadays that the Defense Ministry usually informs newspapers and news agencies of each planned exercise a day before it begins. This time, however, the information was released by “Krasnaya Zvezda” alone, and five days after the fact. Our sources say the combat training schedule of the Northern Fleet this summer don’t include any exercises that involve towing a damaged nuclear submarine to dry-dock. Our analysts say that the exercise was just a cover story. Alarmed by the possibility of another public outcry, the admirals couldn’t think up anything better. According to our sources, something unexpected happened to the submarine. Its reactor must have been shut down, manually or when the automatic shutdown system was activated. The cause might have been anything – fire, explosion, increased background radiation, or the submarine might have taken on water. Mechanical damage to the steering equipment is the “least harmful” cause. The nuclear submarine has been towed to a Northern Fleet repair facility. We don’t have any information about injuries.

An officer once told me: “The Kursk is just a beginning.” He was correct. Sailors are convinced that the Navy has reached the line beyond which any voyage by any ship or submarine could end in disaster. Meanwhile, the admirals – led by Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov – are trying to scare the rest of the world with the ghost of the Russian Navy as “a great naval power”. The Navy Main Command’s boasts about sending a flotilla to the Mediterranean in late 2001 or early 2002 are seen as nonsense within the Northern Fleet. The fleet and the Navy don’t have the resources (material, technical, or human) for such a voyage. Take the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, for example. According to our sources, this flagship of the Northern Fleet is living on borrowed time. Moreover, the Navy has been left almost without fuel since all stocks were depleted by the Kursk rescue operation and patrols in the area. It is common knowledge that the ships assigned to patrol duty have been ordered to save fuel. They remain at anchor.

Last but not least, who is going to command the ships? Unfortunately, the skill levels of officers have fallen considerably. They are still falling, despite president’s statements about “the need to increase the naval might of the state”.

The Navy blames the government for the shortages of fuel, spare parts, and funding. At the same time, some officers are not beyond lining their pockets at the state’s expense. Justice Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Vishnevsky of the military prosecutor’s office of the Severomorsk garrison says the theft situation is critical. Everything from precious metals to canned meat is stolen. The military prosecutor’s office recently investigated another embezzlement scandal on the Admiral Kuznetsov. This particular affair concerned fraud with military transport documents (MTD). An MTD entitles the bearer to free travel to any point within Russia or nearby foreign countries. “Businessmen” in uniform (petty officers mostly) used their business contacts to sell MTDs in Murmansk. Just fill in the details, and fly wherever you want. Rear-Admiral Chelpanov, former commander of the Admiral Kuznetsov, was a particularly active user of MTDs for purposes not quite covered by regulations. The arrangement was fairly simple. For example, ten demobilized sailors go to Moscow. Instead of ten MTDs, they are given only one. Nine MTDs are left in Chelpanov’s “fund”. He used them (or taxpayers’ money, in fact) to invite his patrons from the Moscow region to the Admiral Kuznetsov. Travel there and back was free for them. Three years of such fraud cost the state over 560,000 rubles.

The Northern Fleet court recently examined what is probably the most scandalous “fuel case”. Between 1996 and late 1997, a group of servicemen stole 1,197.5 tons of fuel. The fuel was pumped directly from the ships. This is how it was done. Each ship commander regularly summons a special tanker to take away contaminated waste water. This is what the documents said was taken away by the Cheremsha tanker. But the investigation discovered that fuel was pumped from ships instead, and later sold to fishing boat operators. The large ASW ship Marshal Vasilevsky, the destroyer Rastoropny, the large landing ship BDK-92, the PM-12 floating repair facility, and the tug Nikolai Chiker were involved in the swindle. The organizer of the theft, a certain Rumyantsev, received the heaviest penalty – four years imprisonment, suspended sentence.

Thefts of filter plates containing palladium are a real plague. This small device is used as air-purifier in submarines. Murmansk criminals pay $500 apiece. The Northern Fleet court will soon consider an unprecedented case involving theft of filter plates. It is unprecedented because the plates were stolen by fleet security agents.

Everything started at the Ostrovnoi garrison in 1999. All submarines there are decommissioned. There is no need to explain how they are guarded. Palladium plates and other non-ferrous metals started disappearing from the submarines. The base commander (responsible for security) finally lost patience and asked officers of the special services department to take the palladium plates for safe-keeping. They did not object. Several months later, officers of the special services department sold $200,000 worth of these plates.

Investigators are working on dozens of similar cases. Many of them complain that the work is pointless. Most criminals who steal millions from the state are let off. According to Vishnevsky, the higher the perpetrator’s rank, the more difficult it is to secure a conviction.

Why did the Kursk sink? There are many theories on that score, official and unofficial, reasonable and improbable. Officers are sure that whatever happened in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000 was an effect, not the cause. The sinking of the Kursk had begun long before, while it was still being built. It was sunk by those who have left the Navy without money; and by those who were aware of this but still reported to the federal government that “The Navy is ready to carry out any mission.” It is not ready. More and more incidents confirm this.