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The BBC's Orla Guerin
"The Kremlin has announced compensation for the families"
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The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
"People are losing faith in their country"
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Julian Thomson, salvage company Stolt Offshore
"It is the first time that 3 navies have ever worked together on the project"
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Union of Soldiers' Mothers, Ida Kuklina
"They don't want to publicly discuss their mistakes"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK
Putin admits 'guilt' for sub disaster
Russian sailor
Sailors are remembering their lost colleagues
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said on state television that he feels responsible and guilty for the Kursk submarine disaster in which 118 sailors lost their lives.

Mr Putin said he had received offers of resignation from the defence minister, the navy chief and the commander of the Northern Fleet, but he had decided not to accept them.

If anybody is to blame, he will have to be punished, without any doubt. But we must get a clear picture of the causes of this tragedy

Vladimir Putin
He said that if any people were found responsible for the disaster they would be punished - but only after a thorough investigation.

Mr Putin was speaking after relatives of the sailors who perished on the nuclear submarine refused to recognise the national day of mourning being observed in Russia.

"I bear a feeling of full responsibility and a feeling of guilt for this tragedy," the president said.

Relative with photo of crew
Relatives are refusing to recognise the day of mourning
"If anybody is to blame, he will have to be punished, without any doubt. But we must get a clear picture of the causes of this tragedy and the manner in which the rescue operation was carried out."

The president added: "Our country has surmounted other catastrophes. The events we are going through today are very painful. But I am absolutely convinced that events of this kind do not divide society but unite it."

Mr Putin has been strongly criticised for what many Russians see as his insensitive handling of the disaster and for declining to accept international offers of help with the rescue until four days into the crisis.

Ceremony cancelled

The main ceremony, in which the president had been expected to throw a wreath into the waters of the Barents Sea above the wreck, was cancelled.

Flags at half-mast
Flags are at half-mast across Russia
Mr Putin returned to Moscow after relatives at the Northern Fleet's base in Vidyayevo told him they could not begin to mourn until they had seen their loved ones' bodies with their own eyes.

Correspondents say Vidyayevo is the only place in Russia where flags are not standing at half mast and candles are not being lit in memory of the crew.

I'd say that a lifting the submarine would be in summer next year at the earliest

Julian Thomson, Stolt Offshore spokesman

Across Russia, flags have been lowered on all government buildings, and radio and television stations have replaced entertainment programmes with more sombre material.

The government has announced that the families of the dead will receive an average compensation of $7,000 - equivalent to more than 10 years' wages.

The Kursk rescue operation finally came to an end on Monday after a team of Norwegian and British divers forced open the submarine's rear escape hatch and found that the whole vessel was flooded.

Recovery operation

Experts have warned that the recovery of the bodies of the crew could take until 2001.

Kursk timeline
12 Aug: Sinks during Barents Sea exercises
14 Aug: Russian navy inspects sub
15 Aug: Attempts to attach rescue capsule fail
16 Aug: Russians report no signs of life. Accept help from the West
17 Aug: British and Norwegian craft readied for rescue attempt
19 Aug: British and Norwegian teams arrive at scene
20 Aug: Norwegian and British divers examine Kursk
21 Aug: Divers enter flooded sub
22 Aug: President Putin arrives in Murmansk
23 Aug: National day of mourning - Mr Putin returns to Moscow
"Our feasibility study of raising the wreck or of recovering the bodies will take months," said Julian Thomson, spokesman for Stolt Offshore, the Norwegian company whose divers opened the wreck.

"In practical terms, I'd say that a lifting would be in summer next year at the earliest."

He added that it would probably be easier to raise the entire wreck than retrieve corpses.

The cause of the disaster is still unclear.

Russian officials say they believe the submarine may have collided with a Western submarine that was in the Barents Sea to monitor a large naval exercise in which the Kursk was taking part.

Western experts say the damage to the submarine appears to have been caused by a catastrophic explosion in the torpedo bay.

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See also:

24 Aug 00 | Media reports
Putin's address to the nation
23 Aug 00 | Europe
Reforming Russia's military
23 Aug 00 | Media reports
Sombre media continues to question
22 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Norway wants nuclear alert revived
23 Aug 00 | Media reports
The crew of the Kursk
22 Aug 00 | Europe
Kursk's final hours
22 Aug 00 | Scotland
Kursk bodies recovery planned
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