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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Russia sticks to sub collision theory
Kursk archive picture
Was the Kursk sunk after a collision with a foreign submarine?
Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev says he still believes the most likely explanation for the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk is a collision with a foreign submarine.

No firm evidence has emerged to support such a theory, and the United States says neither of its two submarines which were in the area at the time were involved.

Igor Sergeyev
Sergeyev: Not ruling anything out
General Sergeyev said that there had been 11 collisions involving Russian and foreign submarines over the past 30 years, all but one of them also involving the US Navy.

But he said that he was not ruling out other scenarios, including a possible collision with a surface ship.

The most commonly-discussed explanation for the Barents Sea tragedy in which 118 sailors died is one or more explosions on board the vessel.

Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the causes of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoygu has announced that three naval rescue centres are to be set up in the wake of the disaster - one for the Baltic and Northern Fleets, another in the Black Sea and a third for the Pacific Fleet.

The slow Russian response to the disaster has been severely criticised and President Vladimir Putin has come under considerable pressure for his apparent initial indifference to the tragedy.

The Russian media has attacked both the president and the navy for their handling of the disaster though Friday's press reports were less scathing.

Divers' tales

Six divers - four Britons and two Norwegians - who descended to the Kursk 108 metres below the surface have been talking about the operation for the first time.

map showing submarine's location
They opened two hatches on the submarine but found it had been flooded and all the crew were dead.

One of the Britons, Stewart Bain, said it was immediately obvious when both hatches were opened that the submarine was full of water.

They did not go any further during their five-day mission, nor did they inspect the damage to the torpedo area, where any explosion is thought to have taken place.

He said: "Our job was to determine whether there was somebody underneath that hatch or not and that was what we did.

"We got down there, we looked for signs of life and didn't find any."

Pay increase

President Putin has announced a pay increase for those working on the design, construction and servicing of Russia's nuclear warheads.

Kursk crew relatives
Bereaved relatives want to know what caused the disaster
On Thursday, President Putin announced a 20% pay rise for the country's armed forces.

The decline in military spending over recent years has been attacked in the days since the Kursk sinking.

President Putin held a meeting with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and said defence and security spending would benefit from any windfalls from oil or other revenues in next year's budget.

Polls have shown that, despite economic hardship, 49% of Russians believe the country is a great power which needs a strong army.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | Scotland
Diver tells of Kursk mission
24 Aug 00 | Europe
Putin raises military wages
25 Aug 00 | Media reports
Papers end assault on Putin
24 Aug 00 | Europe
The Kursk disaster: Day by day
22 Aug 00 | Scotland
Kursk bodies recovery planned
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