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Saturday, 19 August, 2000, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Disaster exposes military decline
Oscar class submarine command post
Sub command post - vessels now hardly put to sea
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Most western naval experts doubted that anyone on board the Kursk could have been saved, so catastrophic was the initial explosion that sent it to the bottom.

Many believe that the tragedy of the Kursk is symbolic of the wider state of Russia's once proud fleet.

Money is short; maintenance standards are poor; training levels - especially among conscript sailors - are inadequate.

Many professional officers have left the service since communist days; and Russian warships rarely put to sea.

Indeed the exercise in which the Kursk was participating was probably the largest for several years.

Swift action

Military reform is now once again on the agenda and this submarine disaster is likely to only sharpen the debate.

President Putin
President Putin last month praised the navy as the symbol of a strong Russian state
The Russian President Vladimir Putin is now going to have to move swiftly.

He is likely to throw his weight fully behind those in the military who want to see cuts in Russia's still huge nuclear arsenal and the money spent instead on giving it conventional forces that are both properly trained and equipped.

Those who stand in his way in the defence ministry are likely to find themselves out of a job.

Nato help

But the task facing Mr Putin is huge and previous Russian governments have signally failed even to begin to address the armed forces' problems.

More positively this accident may represent a small step forward in Russia-Nato relations.

Russia only belatedly sought western help, but it did ask. And it worked through the Nato headquarters in Brussels, something that might have been unthinkable in such a crisis only a few years ago.

The Kursk submarine accident

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19 Aug 00 | Media reports
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