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Witness 2000: review of the year Rob Parsons
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Rob Parsons on the Kursk - Russiaís national tragedy
The Kursk
August
In this month:
A Gulf Air plane crashed while on its way to Bahrain, killing all 143 people on board.
Two hundred people from North and South Korea met relatives on the other side of the border for the first time in 50 years.
Nearly 100 people died when a bomb exploded in a Moscow underpass.
Indonesiaís disgraced former dictator Suharto was charged with embezzling up to $400m - though the case is later dropped because of his ill health.
The former Malaysian deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to nine years in prison on sodomy charges amid protests that the trial was politically motivated.
Somalia saw its first parliament after 10 years of internecine warfare. Fuel price protests began across Europe.
In the UK, millionaire businessman Ivan Massow defected to Labour from the Conservatives.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown married his fiance, Sarah Macauley.
The Queen Mother celebrated her hundredth birthday. Another century came from England cricket Alec Stewart - who scored 100 runs against the West Indies in his hundredth Test match. Whistleblowing former spy David Shayler returned to the UK to face trial.
One of the UKís most celebrated lawyers, George Carmen, retired for cancer treatment. In business, Barclays Bank agreed a £5.3n takeover of the Woolwich bank. Swedish company OM launched a takeover bid for the London Stock Exchange.
"Nasty" Nick Bateman was kicked out of the hit Big Brother TV show in the UK after a prolonged campaign to expose his scheming against other contestants.
Indian poet Ali Sardar Jafri, considered India's greatest Urdu nationalist poet, died.
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Tragedy of The Kursk
A once great power became paralysed by a stricken submarine. Moscow correspondent Rob Parsons witnessed the Russian military unravelling before the nation's eyes.

Read the transcript

In this the first year of Vladimir Putin's reign as President of Russia, one event stands out more than any other.

One event occupied the Russian consciousness and filled the headlines here more than any other - that of course was the sinking of the Kursk K141 nuclear submarine on August 14th.

For days on end the entire nation was transfixed by the fate of the 118 sailors down there on the ocean bed far beneath the waves of the Barents Sea.

It encapsulated so much - the floundering efforts of a President to appear presidential, the lingering super-power ambitions of a state without the muscle, the obsession of Russia with secrecy and, most of all, personal tragedy.

It was the personal tragedy that really preoccupied most people.

I was in Murmansk when the tragedy happened.

For seven days I saw the relatives coming in from around Russia, trickling in - in ones and twos.

Sometimes they were met by the representatives of the navy, sometimes there was nobody there to meet them at all.

They sat lonely in railway stations wondering what was going to happen next, wondering where they should go to next and most of all of course wondering about the fate of their loved ones, their relatives, their husbands and friends down there on the ocean bed.

All of us wondered what it could have been like for those sailors and for most of the time we thought there was a possibility that they were still alive.

We were wrong of course. It subsequently turned out that most of them, maybe all of them, had died within the first day or so.

But for a long time we thought there was a chance that a rescue effort could be successful.

We spoke to former submariners about what conditions might be like and they told us a harrowing tale.

Anybody who would have survived they said would have rushed to the back of the submarine.

There might have been 20, maybe 30 people there and conditions would have been awful - cold, dark, hopeless; no food, no communications with the outside world.

All through this we were fed a series of lies by the Russian naval authorities.

Right from the beginning they tried to conceal what had happened.

On the Monday, two days after the event, they told us it had happened on the Sunday - that was lie number one.

After that, they told us they had been communicating with the crew - there had never been any communication.

They then told that everything was fine - that the submarine had glided down to the ocean bed - that was a lie as well. And so the lies went on.

Throughout all of this, the man who should have been there at the head of it all, leading the operation to save the men on board the ship - President Putin - was down on holiday in the south of Russia on the Black Sea coast.

Russian television showed him relaxing in his shirtsleeves, lapping up the sunshine.

It was a critical moment - a former Soviet President, Mikail Gorbochev, said it was "the" critical moment of the year - the moment when the President should have stood up and be counted and failed.

But despite that, President Putin rides high in the opinion polls. Russia has been prepared to forgive him.

Yet through all these negatives that we have had this year in Russia, one positive thing came out of the Kursk disaster.

The fourth estate - the press, the media, showed that at last it is prepared to fight back and fight against the secrecy.

Civil society in Russia is beginning to form at last.

People aren't prepared to be fed lies any more and President Putin it seems may have taken that on board.