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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
Spectre of Kursk haunts Putin
Relatives of Kursk crew
The families of the crew are still waiting for answers
By Stephen Dalziel in Moscow

It was a year ago that the Russian nuclear powered submarine, the Kursk, sank with all of its 118 crew.

The cause of the accident has yet to be established and amidst the controversy which surrounded it, the tragedy remains the single biggest error of judgement by Vladimir Putin during his time as Russian president.

Vladimir Putin
Putin made an unprecedented apology
No one blamed Mr Putin for the fact that when the news came through that the pride of the Russian navy submarine fleet was lying on the bottom of the Barents Sea, he was on holiday in Sochi.

But for the first time in the four months that Mr Putin had been president, he came in for serious criticism when he stayed in Sochi.

It was a full five days before he returned to the Kremlin and another four before he went to the northern port of Murmansk, from where the rescue operation was being co-ordinated.

Open criticism

Mr Putin held a meeting behind closed doors with all of the relatives, who had recently been told that there was no hope of bringing up their loved ones alive.

It was a stormy affair, with the families not holding back in their criticism of the naval authorities or Mr Putin himself.

Kursk-type sub
Some doubt that the sub can be raised

The next day Mr Putin went on nationwide television and in a gesture unprecedented for a Soviet or Russian leader, apologised for his mistakes in handling the affair.

Last month, at a meeting in the Kremlin with journalists, the Russian leader showed that he had not forgotten the experience.

"I probably should have returned to Moscow, but nothing would have changed. I had the same level of communication both in Sochi and in Moscow, but from a PR point of view I could have demonstrated some special eagerness to return," he said.


But even Mr Putin's apology has not laid to rest the ghost of the Kursk.

He promised the families that the wreck would be raised so they could bury their loved ones with dignity.

Many doubt the wisdom of this decision, or indeed whether it will be possible, but with the operation due to take place in September it is clear that the Kursk will continue to haunt the Russian president for some time to come.

See also:

12 Aug 01 | Europe
Russia grieves for Kursk dead
10 Aug 01 | Europe
Kursk lifting 'on course'
07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
New theory for Kursk sinking
24 Aug 00 | Europe
The Kursk disaster: Day by day
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