Igor Yuriev Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozrenie, December 7-14, 2001, p. 3

Although the president has severely punished commanders of the Northern Fleet, there have been no consequences for the nation’s top military leaders. The Navy is reacting badly to the dismissals of its admirals. It can see a clear political reason beneath the latest personnel changes.

General Prosecutor Vladimir Ustinov reported to President Vladimir Putin on the intermediary results of investigation of the reasons of the Kursk submarine disaster. This report led to a number of major personnel changes in the leadership of the Northern Fleet and the Navy.

After a meeting at the president’s office, in which Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, and Navy Commander-in-Chief participated, it was announced that 14 admirals and top-ranking officers were dismissed or demoted. Among them are: Northern Fleet Commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, Northern Fleet Staff head Vice-Admiral Mikhail Motsak, as well as head of the Navy emergency and rescue department counter-Admiral Gennady Verich. Putin demanded the top military leadership to work out a “system of measures that would qualitatively improve the general activity of the Navy”.

The Kremlin personnel decisions were largely unexpected. As is known the Kursk submarine was recently successfully raised to the surface, an operation that was praised by the president. That is why the maximum punishment the Northern Fleet commandment expected was a warning about inadequate compliance. Consequently, the reports of dismissals were a bolt from the blue, shocking the Navy and fleet commanders.

Overall, the Navy is taking a negative view of these decisions. Admirals Popov and Matsak have a reputation as professionals, with plenty of combat experience. Vyacheslav Popov was also considered as one of the most likely candidates for the position of Navy commander-in-chief. In fact, the real reason for the grievances is the difficult financial situation in the Russian Armed Forces. And it is the political leadership – both former and present – that is to be held accountable for this.

Undoubtedly, the punishment of the admirals has a political reason as well. Both Popov and Matsak have repeatedly said that the Kursk disaster was caused by a collision with a US or British submarine. Navy Commander-in-chief Vladimir Kuroedov has the same opinion. It is clear that this theory is extremely inconvenient for the Russian president, who aims to improve relations with the US and NATO. It is no accident that Putin especially stressed that so far there has been no objective evidence to support the collision theory. That is why the dismissal of the Northern Fleet leadership can be appraised as a warning to the Russian generals and admirals who are negative about the present foreign policy course of the Kremlin.

While the Navy officials were rather severely punished, no question of even moral responsibility of Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin was raised: during the days of the Kursk disaster Kvashnin was vacationing on the Black Sea and to all anxious reports from the General Staff he replied: “I’m on vacation. Report to Defense Minister Marshal Sergeev.”

Overall, currently Russia’s political and military leadership is not making an objective analysis of the situation in the Northern Fleet and giving it financial and technical support; it is simply looking for a scapegoat.

First of all, this has a negative impact on the authority of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, although he has charged the defense minister with the responsibility for personnel changes. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov hasn’t visited the Kursk submarine to pay tribute to the dead crew; moreover, when the president was attending the launching ceremony of the new Gepard nuclear submarine, he was moving in the opposite direction from Severodvinsk, to Samara, where he once again stated that in the course of reforming the Russian Armed Forces, special attention is being paid to the units located in the regions “where we feel certain concerns and threats.” In these terms, he pays more attention to the North Caucasus, Trans-Volga and Urals districts, and he hasn’t the time or inclination to deal with the Northern Fleet.