BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Russian Polish Albanian Greek Czech Ukrainian Serbian Turkish Romanian
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Europe  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Kursk closure leaves questions unanswered
 Kursk nuclear submarines wreck at the dry dock in the northern Russian port of Roslyakovo
The Kursk was to be the pride of the Northern Fleet

After nearly two years of investigation the Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov has ordered the criminal case on the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster closed.

He told President Vladimir Putin and the Russian public that no-one, but a faulty torpedo was to blame for the loss of 118 lives.

To the victims' families the verdict is nothing short of a whitewash.

Many of them refused to accept it and are considering civil action to try to find out the truth.

The prosecution says it has nothing to hide and is offering the relatives free access to the 133 tomes of the case, even those containing military secrets.

Mistakes made

But the question remains: Why was a state-of-the-art nuclear submarine, designed to withstand the full wrath of an enemy fleet, so easily destroyed by a practice torpedo, which didn't even have a warhead?

And why had the torpedo - which was apparently leaking explosive fuel - not been checked properly?

Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov
Ustinov: torpedo was to blame for the loss of the submarine
The prosecution admits mistakes were made by the Russian Northern fleet command during the preparation and conduct of the exercises that ended in tragedy.

But they allegedly had nothing to do with the disaster itself.

However, the fleet Commander, Vyacheslav Popov, and his chief of staff, Mikhail Motsak, were sacked by President Putin following the catastrophe.

This ambiguity reflects the general state of affairs in the Russian Navy and, indeed, the Russian armed forces.

The top brass still thinks of itself as a force to be reckoned with, while junior officers go unpaid for months, and essential supplies and maintenance procedures are cut short because of financial constraints.

Modern weapons produced by the Russian defence industry have been out of reach for the armed forces, the industry itself living from hand to mouth on foreign orders.

The need for a radical shake-up of the Russian armed forces, a reform that will make them leaner and meaner is obvious.

Chief of staff Mikhail Motsak and his boss,  Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov were sacked by President Putin
Motsak, sacked by President Putin following the catastrophe
But the generals have been dragging their feet, fearing to lose their cushy jobs.

They were fairly sure that President Putin, who owed his election success largely to the military campaign in Chechnya, would not dare to touch them.

But the Kursk disaster turned the tables on them.

From the start the president was advised that the situation was under control and that he should stay out of it.

Top brass sacked

He took the advice and remained at his Black sea retreat. A huge public outcry ensued.

The Russians wanted to see their president at the scene of the tragedy.

His previously sky-high ratings had dropped dramatically.

That, apparently was the end of the influence the military had been exercising on President Putin.

He removed a professional general from the post of the defence minister, which in Russia has always been the domain of the military, and appointed the first ever civilian to run the armed forces.

Family members of a seaman killed, when the nuclear submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea
A relative mourns one of the 118 crew members who perished
The military was dumbstruck but from now on appears to be afraid openly to argue with the president.

He has been more active lately in his attempts to kick-start military reform, and the Russian army will get its first fully professional division as soon as August.

Still, it's a far cry from a modern and efficient army that the Kremlin is aspiring to have so as to be on truly equal terms with its Nato partners.

And the full truth about the Kursk disaster, the victims' relatives say, is as much needed by them as it is crucial for the future of the Russian armed forces.

The Kursk submarine accident

Key stories

CLICKABLE GUIDE

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

27 Jul 02 | Media reports
26 Jul 02 | Europe
26 Apr 02 | Europe
23 Mar 02 | Europe
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes