Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
The Kursk: How much has Russia changed?

The Russian authorities have been criticised for not being open enough about the Kursk submarine disaster, for issuing contradictory reports and for not seeking foreign help earlier.

Yet it has been Russia's own media which has led the way in these attacks on the official handling of the disaster.

Going back a couple of decades, it is hard to imagine a Russian television reporter delivering live updates of a nuclear submarine accident from the deck of one of the rescue ships.

Clearly, something has changed in the way such events are handled, but there remain echoes of the official secrecy, and perhaps pride, which was the hallmark of the Kremlin and the Russian military during the Soviet era.

How much has Russia really changed?

Your reaction

The Russian Navy has been in trouble for a long time now

Ivan Lavelle, England
The Russian Navy has been in trouble for a long time now. When I visited St Petersburg in Russia as part of an Army sail training crew, we saw many ships and subs rusting away happily berthed on the way into the harbour.
Ivan Lavelle, England

This is the time for Russia to become more democratic and to think about its own people.
Ceejo, India

It seems like Russia is living in the XVIII century. This guy Putin must answer a lot of questions. His behaviour has been completely wrong since the first day of the accident.
Eduardo, Mexico

I am still not quite sure if the Russians learnt the lesson. The politicians and military people alike speak now about the need to increase military spending, purchase of new and modern weaponry, maintaining their "superpower" status, etc. But I can hardly hear any sober voice that Russia simply cannot afford it, and that perhaps it needs to scale down everything in this respect. I only hope that the sober minds will appear.
Sigitas, Lithuania

Overall Russia has deteriorated on every front since the days of the erstwhile Soviet Union. All what is left to glorify is the nuclear arsenal.
Amardev Banerjee, India

They have gone from hero to zero in terms of military power control

Ajmal, Afghanistan
Things have definitely changed in Russia. In space of a decade, they have gone from hero to zero in terms of military power control.
Ajmal, Afghanistan

On behalf of the Russian people I would like to thank British and Norwegian rescuers for the help. I would like to read reports of the rescuers about what they saw in the submarine. We don't believe our Navy and government officials.
Helen Lykova, Russia

This sunken submarine is an environmental threat regardless of the propaganda coming out of Russia. This threat needs to be addressed and hopefully by parties more adept at the task than the Russians appear to be.
Larry Zaygon, USA

Russia let its people down like it has many times since the Soviet break-up. If they asked for US help their boys might still be alive. And for secrecy, do they think the have any secrets form American spies, get real Putin!
Al, U.S.A

Russia is a country with no Plan B

Dan Miller, USA
The Russian "plan" for dealing with this type of emergency goes back decades. Russia is a country with no Plan B.
Dan Miller, USA

Russia's farcical handling of the situation exemplifies the barriers of despotism within the government. The Russian government is directly responsible for this human calamity. The secrecy and indiscretion within the government clearly illustrates that Russia is a weak relic of the Soviet era.
Yilmaz Mamedy, United Kingdom

I see no change

Brenne Buckley, Scotland
I see no change. It's still the same old story. Russian Government wants superpower recognition and it's prepared to sacrifice pretty much anything from their environment to 118 submariners. But the thing that angers me most about this situation, as always with Russia, is its shadiness. I wouldn't trust 'em further than I could throw 'em
Brenne Buckley, Scotland

I think you need to look at the big picture. It's been hard for Russia to ask for help. Maybe next time they will feel more able to ask sooner. I'm sure they didn't want this disaster to happen. If something good can come from this, then it's closer relations with old adversaries. Lets not let these men die for nothing.
Steve Glenister, London, UK

Russia is finally changing into a "normal" country

Kaj Leers, The Netherlands
Though it is utterly sad to have to say, the disaster with the Kursk has made it clear that Russia is finally changing into a "normal" country, no longer governed by a policy of 'put up or shut up'. The Russian people are slowly getting used to the idea of democracy, and their audacity to openly criticise their president - almost unprecedented ! - is certainly a good sign. It saddens me, however, that Russia apparently always needs a tragedy before change.
Kaj Leers, The Netherlands

The tragedy with the Kursk submarine shows once again that Russia is still governed by "Soviet thick heads" and the election of Vladimir Putin as President was a big mistake. On the other hand, the behaviour of the Russian media and the comments of the ordinary people who are not afraid to criticise and express their anger with the authorities might be the sign of the "reawakening" of the Russian civil society.
Maria Zlatareva, Bulgaria

The strongest message that this incident proves is the character of President Putin. He is man who invites applause by killing "enemies of the State" and not by his performance as a Head of a Democratic Country. Finally Putin proved himself as a Man of Blood and Violence NOT a man of Hearts.
Gopi Pradhan, Bhutan

The saddest thing now is that every journalist and politician capitalises on the Kursk tragedy

A.K., Russian Federation
The saddest thing now is that every journalist and politician capitalises on the Kursk tragedy. One hundred and eighteen deaths have become a cheap source for some people to criticise those who occupy the office they think should belong to them: the office of the President, for instance.
A.K., Russian Federation

The sinking of the Kursk shows the poor state of Russia's society as a whole, economically and militarily.
Jason, Singapore

I made 5 patrols on a "boomer". My heart and prayers go out to the Russian Sub-Sailors. There are many, many precautions and drills done to prevent such accidents. Why were there "live" torpedoes on a training exercise? With so many "boats" in the area, what prolonged the rescue attempt? Finally, what about the missiles, what about a reactor meltdown? The Russian Sub Navy has been "bluffing" its strength since the 60's. This accident should be a "wake-up" call to all people about the danger and destructive power of missile loaded "nuke" subs.
Randell Briggs, USA

The Russian military and Mr Putin are not culpable for this terrible disaster. I believe they knew early on the extent of the tragedy, but were unable to do anything productive. What we have here is just another example of international capital punishing the arrogance of past Russian military attitudes.
L. Loukopoulos, USA

We prayed in church on Sunday, that God would bring some good from this horrible tragedy.
I. Poerokalisirenep, USA

This is a very humbling experience for the Russians. I just hope that they will learn their lesson that man must come to terms to his own limitations. It is no disgrace to ask for help when we know that we've already reached rock bottom.
Joseph Dadofalza, Philippines

It is time Russia starts accepting some unpalatable home truths regarding its status as a military superpower

Stefan Brzozowski, England
The handling of this situation by the Russian authorities has been a complete shambles from start to tragic finish. The reluctance by Russia to admit that it did not have the technological capability of being able to fully assess the situation the sub was in, let alone attempt any sort of a rescue, led to an unforgivably long wait before international support was finally requested. Putin's management of the crisis has been a fiasco and does not bode well for his presidency. It is time Russia starts accepting some unpalatable home truths regarding its status as a military superpower and begins to work more closely with Western countries to avoid future catastrophes.
Stefan Brzozowski, England

The Russians must have been aware of their capabilities and should have acted faster in asking for help. Their pride has cost them 118 lives. How is the rest of their marine force meant to feel? That they risk their lives every day, yet there is no chance of ever being rescued in case of an accident. The Russians have not only lost their pride that they are so keen on protecting but also their marine force's trust.
Racha, UK

It took the Norwegian divers just a few hours, to open the hatch. The Russians did not manage this operation in a week. I think someone should be held responsible for this!!
Řystein, Norway

The Norwegians achieved more in a day than the Russians did in a week. I wonder how many Russians will get in one of their subs after this little fiasco.
John B, UK

I believe that every powerful nation - the US, UK, China and many others would have also declined the offer of assistance. Perhaps the lives of 118 servicemen is a cheaper price to pay than the discovery of secrets hidden from the prying eyes of other nations?
Shane, UK

Our prayers go out to the victims of this tragedy and to their families. This is a time for the Russians to rise above the incompetence and arrogance of their politicians and military puppets. A simple rescue mission could not even be handled correctly. What the Russian navy took days to decide or do, the Norwegians accomplished in a matter of hours: opening the escape hatch and getting access to the ship.
Charles McEniry, USA

One might see a larger metaphor in the scenario being played out with the West now coming to the bail out the hapless Russians. Maybe it's time to scrap the war toys, which rather than protecting their owners are nothing but death traps.
Time to build a better Russia in the context of the European Union.
Larry, Canada

President Putin needs to come home from his vacation

Scott, USA
President Putin needs to come home from his vacation. I do not know if he is intending to look so unfazed by the fate of his people, but his indifference makes him look more like a Czar than a democratically elected president.
Scott, USA

If the Russian navy cannot rescue their own. What chance do the Brits, Americans or Jamaicans have. Their sub with their boys on their shoreline...all we have is hope.
Billy, USA

How ironic that a weapon of mass destruction has managed to bring about a united world and a concern that all life is precious no matter what the ideological differences may be. At this moment we are all comrades at last hoping that those 118 men may be saved.
Martin Bernhardt, Netherlands

1. Rescue operations should have started immediately on receipt of distress signals.
2. Escape hatches have to be of an international standard and other provisions have to be installed to make it possible for two submarines to provide at least oxygen and communication possibilities.
What happened is a shame for Russia
Raoul Laureyns, Belgium

I am amazed at the amount of concern that the 'average man' in the street has for these Russian submariners

Valery Levitanus, USA
I look around at people here in the USA and I am amazed at the amount of concern that the 'average man' in the street has for these Russian submariners - unthinkable even 10 years ago. If only the Russian military had asked for help sooner, we might be celebrating their health now rather than worrying for their wellbeing. Their fate is in God's hands now.
Valery Levitanus, USA (Born in Ukraine)

I haven't prayed for a long time, but the plight of those desperate human beings who would, just as any one of us have the desire to live and contribute to life and the world, moved me so that a prayer did indeed slip my lips. I hope, nay I pray that those men will live ! Damn the leaders who choose who lives and who dies.
Jac, Canada

With the ceaseless signals intelligence battle, that's been on full tilt since the 1950s, waged against Russia by the Allied Powers, most notably Britain and the United States, there is the strong argument for the want for secrecy by the Russian military (I'd say that they'd be down right paranoid by now!). That the US Navy can tell us, with a straight face, that they detected the two explosions from the Kursk does tell us something!
John Dugas, USA

If a US sub had been involved, it would naturally complicate matters. Recently, also, the US has refused Russia's help with forest fires. Some of these sub "games" that the US has played have led to some serious mishaps for the Russians. My sympathies and heartfelt support for those who are trying to find a place in the "Western" (American) world. It's a cruel world still of winners and losers to some.
Jana O'Neal, USA

We cannot say whether this is based upon military secrecy or that the west is better equipped to handle such a situation

Iain Millar, New Zealand
If the USA or the UK were put in the same position they would probably not ask for help from Russia. We cannot say whether this is based upon military secrecy or that the west is better equipped to handle such a situation. It is unfair to pin all Russia's questionable actions on military secrecy and national pride.
Iain Millar, New Zealand

Shouldn't we start referring to the Royal Navy rescue mission as the US rescue mission? That's what the Hollywood film will call it.
Jon Livesey, USA

The men who head the Russian Navy (like their counterparts in the US and UK) spent years under orders to protect technological and tactical secrets at almost any cost. That sort of culture of secrecy is not easily dispensed with and will probably only fade as these long-embattled cold warriors retire.
Kristina, USA

Attributing the delay in rescuing the hapless navy crew to Russian secrecy and mistrust would be misguided, as time and again actions of the Russian government makes it obvious that human lives, be they of its civilians or of those of other countries, are insignificant when considering the interests of the States.
Tahir Nawab, USA

What would happen if a NATO submarine went down?

Robbie Stewart, Scotland
What would happen if a NATO submarine went down? That eventuality is already covered by the production of Nato's rescue vessels. I presume this goes hand-in-hand with the actual design of the submarines, sadly unlike Russian submarines.
Robbie Stewart, Scotland

There are a number of things that must be remembered here. Whilst in retrospect it may be easy to say that the Russians should have asked for help earlier, I think they are no different to the UK and US in trying to solve the problem before looking for help. A country would normally only seek help if their own avenues prove exhausted, especially in military situations such as this. Also, before Russian pride is questioned, I would like to ask why the UK Rescue Sub was not flown to Norway and prepared there earlier rather than waiting in the UK for the Russians to request assistance.
Sam, UK

A tragedy unfolding... we should pray. In a time of peace, a (botched) military exercise should not lead to such a horrifying death. For National Security reasons (and others), every military operates on the premise that..."these are our boys and we'll do everything we can to get them out," but ill-fated decisions do play a part, and untimely decisions are very costly. One can't help but be struck by the tragic irony which is implicit here - a military exercise. This holds profound lessons for all citizens of the earth.

They have maintained the security of the stricken vessel, but have failed to demonstrate their commitment to the people who serve under arms

Erik H, USA
Russia's military leaders have two responsibilities in this tragedy: Maintain the security of their country and maintain the morale and trust of their military personnel. They have maintained the security of the stricken vessel, but have failed to demonstrate their commitment to the people who serve under arms. Morale will further erode in an already depleted military.
Erik H, USA

I don't know about any of the other posters; but I'm not in the navy, not a submariner, not a diver and I've never had to pull 118 men out of a military grade tube 400ft beneath churning seas. I think there are very few people qualified to decide if the Russian navy has done the right thing or not. Certainly the spin seems to be that they haven't - but who'd trust a politician?
Jason, Scotland

Nationalism, pride, the unwillingness of the Russian politicians to ask for assistance this is unfortunately characteristic of any country who classifies themselves as a super power, i.e., U.S, U.K, China and Russia. They must demonstrate to the rest of the world their determination to handle internal crisis, especially Russia, considering their present situation. If there is any consolation, the men of the Kursk will pass with their comrades and at sea.
Michael, Canada

Russia has done what ANY of the other Western powers that have offered help would have done. They have first tried to deal with it themselves, now that that has failed, they have asked for help. The Russians have ALWAYS handled things by themselves and in their own way .. something that should earn them some overdue respect (with the western media). I think this whole topic is off-the-track, let's just HOPE that SOMEONE can save those 118 men.
Steven Duddell, Australia

I think the Russian authorities have taken a delayed decision to rescue the human life stuck in the sub. Sometimes I am never in favour of politicians this being a living example when it comes to saving the human life. Top politicians do not care for life if they can find cover just to guard non-human interest. It is high time nations take heed to review the military situation in order to preserve human life.
Jumanne Mwinshehe, Tanzania

It sounds like the British rescue team haven't waited to be asked by Russia to move, but have prepared for action anyway

Phil, UK
From the news reports, it sounds like the British rescue team haven't waited to be asked by Russia to move, but have prepared for action anyway. Despite this, they won't get there till Saturday.
I may be wrong, but it doesn't sound as if the rescue would have happened much more quickly if the Russians had asked for our help immediately. Of course, the time it's taking may be a result of not having been able to count on using Russian ports and resources. How quickly could the rescue attempt have got underway for a British sub?
Phil, UK

It is impossible to believe that anyone would deliberately allow another human being (let alone so many) to die in such horrific circumstances, for any reason whatsoever. The Russians have shown a callous and frightening disregard for the sacredness of human life.
Ubong Effeh, Nigerian

The fact that they refused American help which happened to be immediately available and on the spot suggests that the Russians have something to hide. Bringing in the Brits is but a token of acceptance of help to what assistance they could have had immediately after the incident.
Hazel, UK

Russia has acted in a manner that is understandable considering the options that they had to begin with

Madhav Mukundan, USA
While what has happened could turn out to be a great tragedy, Russia has acted in a manner that is understandable considering the options that they had to begin with. Enlisting the help of the US would not have been timely enough to save the sailors on board.
Finally, military personnel know what they're getting into when they enlist or are commissioned. While this does not make the turn of events any less dire, its basic principle provides the underlying strength on which any strong military force is based.
Madhav Mukundan, USA

In a general sense, the Russian Government has unnecessarily risked the lives of its sailors. It cannot afford to maintain its navy, yet it persists in sending men to sea in vessels of doubtful seaworthiness. On a specific point and noting the poor safety record of the Russian submarine fleet, I am surprised that they do not possess the right sort of equipment to cope with this type of incident. However, let us see how the British rescue submarine copes with the situation before jumping to any conclusions.
Chris Klein, UK

Without resorting to high-profiled spin doctors and their sound bites to satisfy the feeding frenzy of the media, the Russians are going about the serious business of rescuing their submariners, without compromising their military position.
Mohansingh, India

Ask the relatives of the poor men stuck down there since Saturday if they think that the Russian military were right to leave it for so long before seeking aid. Personally, I just don't get it. Pride comes before a fall...
Nic, England

The Russians have handled the problem as they have been doing since ages: on their own

Pee Rei, NL
The Russians have handled the problem as they have been doing since ages: on their own, with available equipment. However, the Cold War is supposed to be over, other countries support, and their own the equipment is slowly deteriorating. I suppose the crew would have been grateful if the support had been accepted earlier, but somewhere, somehow someone believes in the good old-fashioned way.
Pee Rei, NL

Not many countries have Oscar II class submarines so we can't say what other countries would do. But Russia should have sought help when it became clear it couldn't cope. And the secrecy angle doesn't wash. Surely our spies will have provided the full schematics for this kind of hardware already?
Martin Dean, England

As they say, "Pride comes before a fall." It's just a shame that the lives of so many of their own countrymen have to be jeopardised in order for Russian leaders to save face.
DM Hawkins, USA

I think it is very easy to stand on the sidelines and be critical

Jonathan Clarke, Australia
I think it is very easy to stand on the sidelines and be critical. The Russians have made mistakes but the challenges of locating and rescuing people from sunken submarines are huge. There have been very few rescues or successful escapes from submarines of any country, so it is quite possible that nobody could have done better. The attitude to the Russian efforts displayed by the media over this terrible accident at times seem to consist more of patronising superiority rather than genuine understanding of the issues.
Jonathan Clarke, Australia

Any country engaged in a sensitive military operation would have acted in the same manner. When there is no indication of survivors, of course they would try and raise the sub before asking for outside assistance. The families should be considered and the government has an obligation to give them as much information as possible regarding the well being of their loved ones.
Sheila, USA

It seems very distrusting and very much harking back to cold war days, but would the British navy accept help from Russia without first spending precious time trying to solve the problem itself?
Dan Peters, UK

Would the UK or USA have been quick to take help from Russia in similar circumstances?

Gerry, Scotland
Would the UK or USA have been quick to take help from Russia in similar circumstances? Probably not - the secret technology is more important than lives.
Gerry, Scotland

Pride has killed millions through human history. Nationalism is another name for pride.
Mike, Hong Kong

The Russians are doing what any self-respecting nation would do. After all, if a Trident missile boat went down off the coast of Scotland, would the MOD be pleading with the Russians for assistance?
As for any cover-up regarding radiation risk, just compare that with the UK cover-ups over BSE, GM foods, Iraq, Kosovo etc etc ad nauseam.
Jamie, UK

Russia hasn't handled it! Too little, too late. I hope for the sub-mariners and their families that they are found alive.
Colin, Netherlands

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

17 Aug 00 | Europe
Race to save stricken sub

Links to other Talking Point stories