Dmitry Grigoriev Tribuna, October 4, 2001, EV

The top brass is reluctant to take responsibility for continuation of the operation in the Barents Sea, and is stalling for time. Mammoet senior executive Malcolm Davis, rather than any senior Russian military or civilian official, will order the raising to begin

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, Northern Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov with his second-in-command Mikhail Barskov, Mikhail Motsak of the Special Assignment Expedition, Academician Igor Spassky of the Rubin Design Bureau, and top executives of the companies Mammoet and Smit International are now aboard the cruiser Pyotr Veliky.

It is logical to assume that an important figure like Klebanov would be giving the order to lift the submarine from the seabed, and taking all responsibility for the outcome of the operation.

This assumption has never been doubted until recently. In his numerous contacts with the Murmansk press center, Klebanov was always absolutely certain that the submarine would be raised to the surface by the end of this week and that the salvage would be a success. Everything changed on October 2 when Klebanov said he had nothing to say “concerning October 4 as the date when the submarine will be lifted.”

Motsak literally stunned everyone by saying: “The situation will be thoroughly analyzed and Mammoet senior executive Malcolm Davis will order the raising to begin.”

Only one conclusion leaps to mind. All the top brass have serious reasons to doubt the successful outcome of the operation, and no one is eager to assume responsibility for the failure. It is reasonable to surmise that Davis was chosen as a scapegoat.

Mammoet spokeswoman Larisa van Seimeren answered media questions on October 3. The Kursk may be raised to the Giant-4 barge and… allowed to sink again if weather conditions prevent it being towed to shore, she said. It means that the nuclear submarine – with two nuclear reactors and 24 missiles with warheads – will be more than just disturbed (which the whole Kola Peninsula fears) after a year in salt water; it will be disturbed several times.

There is more to it. We are told that the hull of the Kursk may break apart. Serious cracks may have developed under the resin hull, according to Rear Admiral Yuri Senatsky, senior specialist in salvage operations in the Soviet Navy. When the first compartment was cut off, a crack was seen in the solid hull. Divers began cutting along it, it saved them time. But Senatsky would not wager there are no other similar cracks in the hull someplace else. Rubin specialists did not examine the hull; the Kursk steel hull is hidden by a resin coating.

It follows that the Kursk may break apart and fall to the sea floor as it is being lifted by cables, or while it is being towed to Roslyakovo. We discussed the possibility with Andrei Zolotkov, leader of Murmansk regional organizations of Belluna.

Zolotkov: God forbid that any cables break during transportation. The submarine may hit the granite seabed. No one has tested Kursk reactors for such impact stresses. It would not be another Chernobyl, of course. Reactor walls in the submarine contain radiation absorbers, they would stop a chain reaction. But even in a flash of activity, the temperature in the reactors may soar, the hulls will be penetrated. It would mean contamination of the area.

In short, Klebanov and the Northern Fleet command do have something to fear. The operation goes awry they will lose their jobs. But the ordinary residents of Murmansk and the whole Kola Peninsula may lose much more.