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The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Moscow
"At the time of the disaster the government gave wildly conflicting information"
 real 56k

BBC Russian Affairs analyst Stephen Dalziel
"The only logical conclusion is that there was an explosion onboard"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 September, 2000, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Kremlin denies Kursk deception
Relatives of Kursk crew members
Relatives were not given false hopes, says Mr Klebanov
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov has denied that the government conducted a deliberate campaign of disinformation during the Kursk submarine disaster.

But during hostile questions in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, Mr Klebanov conceded that statements were made "in the heat of the moment without enough analysis".

All 118 crew members died when the submarine went down during a naval exercise in the Barents Sea last month. Both the attempted rescue mission and the way the Russian navy dealt with the tragedy were severely criticised.

Mr Klebanov also refused to resign unless the Russian president asked him to step down.

Deputy Prime Minister, Ilya Klebanov
Deputy PM Klebanov: 'Statements made in heat of moment'
Yury Schekochikhin from the liberal Yabloko party accused Mr Klebanov of covering up the fact that Russia did not have the resources to attempt a rescue.

Specialist help from Britain and Norway was eventually accepted several days after the Kursk's sinking when it became clear that Russian attempts to rescue the crew members had failed.

Disinformation

Other deputies demanded to know why the government raised relatives' hopes by claiming to have detected crew members tapping SOS signals on the stricken submarine's hull.

Crew of the Kursk
All 118 crew members lost their lives
Officials later said all the crew would have died within minutes of the sinking.

"The statements that I know about were not spreading disinformation, but on occasion they appeared like disinformation," admitted Mr Klebanov.

"I personally heard a tape recording of an easily audible tapping sound," he said. "This tapping sound was incredibly clear."

"At that point we thought there were people still alive," he said, but added: "Now I have different evidence."

Disaster theories

Mr Klebanov admitted that officials now believe the noise was created by a mechanical device aboard the vessel.

Relative of Kursk crew member
Relatives of the dead want the bodies recovered
The current government commission is looking at three possible causes for the disaster:

  • that the submarine collided with a foreign vessel;
  • that it was accidentally torpedoed by another Russian ship;
  • or that it was sunk by a massive on-board explosion.

The BBC's Russian affairs analyst, Stephen Dalziel, says the most likely theory is that of the on-board explosion, as American monitors heard explosions coming from the submarine.

He says many people believe that the collision theory may have been invented by Russia's Defence Ministry to cover up its own mistakes.

map
Despite this, Aleksei Mitrofanov, a member of the Liberal Democrat faction in the Duma called on the US Navy to allow an inspection of its submarine, the Memphis, which was in the Barents Sea to observe the Kursk exercise.

Another MP, Sergei Zhekov, maintains that the cruiser Peter the Great accidentally sank the Kursk with a torpedo.

But our analyst says the size and strength of the submarine count against these theories.

With a length of 160 metres, and a twin hull, a collision would probably have caused more damage to any other vessel. It also could have resisted an impact with a torpedo fired without a warhead.

Salvage operation

Mr Klebanov said on Thursday that plans to salvage the bodies of the crew and the submarine itself would not be interrupted.

The first stage - that of salvaging the bodies - will begin in October and last for two months, the deputy prime minister said on state television.

"A contract with a Norwegian company is being finalised", Mr Klebanov added.

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | Europe
Date set for Kursk mission
22 Aug 00 | Scotland
Kursk bodies recovery planned
07 Sep 00 | Europe
US gives Russia report on Kursk
24 Aug 00 | Europe
Failings haunt Kursk inquiry
24 Aug 00 | Europe
The Kursk disaster: Day by day
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