President Vladimir Putin, so fond of remembering even the smallest details of each and every one of the battles of the Red Army during World War II, does not want to know anything about everything that smells of defeat and the terrible catastrophe of the nuclear submarine Kursk , whose 20th anniversary is now remembered, it seems that for him it was.
Especially since the ship, a completely new submersible and then equipped with unique technologies to accurately destroy aircraft carriers, sought to intimidate the Pentagon. But it sank with its 118 crew members in front of the US fleet itself, the Memphis and Toledo submarines that were nearby. The cause of the tragedy was a torpedo so obsolete that nobody has ever understood what it was painting there.
Especially humiliating for Putin was the fact that his American counterpart, Bill Clinton, found out about what happened to the Kursk before him. The fatal accident occurred a few months after the Russian president took office for his first term. It was a huge blow to him, given that his emergence as leader was marked by the desire to regain Russia’s lost greatness.
He also reacted late and badly to events. He continued on vacation in Sochi while the Russian media, not yet intervened by him, spit out disturbing information about the confusion and impotence of the Navy and the authorities in trying to save the lives of the sailors.
Putin took ten days to realize that he had to travel urgently to the scene of the disaster to lead the rescue operation and meet in Vidiáyevo with the families. At first, it even rejected international aid without having its own alternatives to solve the crisis. The result of the investigation did not shed full light on the facts either. The decisions, both judicial and those adopted by the Government, to date, have not satisfied the families of the victims.
Perhaps due to this accumulation of unfortunate circumstances, the top Russian leader does not want to remember it and, therefore, this new anniversary has once again passed without pain or glory. A handful of acts in tribute to the 118 soldiers have been held these days in different parts of Russia with minimal participation of the authorities. Putin has not been present nor does he ever attend events in memory of the victims of terrorist actions such as the explosions in several Russian cities in the autumn of 1999 or the massacres at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow and the school in Beslan.
The nuclear submarine K-141 Kursk, pride of the Russian Navy since its launch in 1994 and one of the most sophisticated warships of its time, was an immense mass of 154 meters in length, 18 in beam and a displacement of 18,000 tons . It wore a double hull and was armed with 24 “Granit” cruise missiles, several of them nuclear-charged, and a dozen torpedoes.
It sank in the Bárents Sea during some maneuvers on August 12, 2000 with all 118 of its crew. Two explosions in the bow caused the ship to sink and land on the bottom at a depth of 108 meters. The deflagrations killed a significant part of the submarine’s crew and the flooding caused by the waterway with almost all the others. The message found on the body of a young naval lieutenant, written blindly before he died and addressed to his wife and son, indicated that 23 men from compartments 6,7 and 8 of the ship moved to 9, the last one aft , where they waited in the dark, without food or drinking water, to be rescued. It is estimated that they had to await death for two and a half days.
Many disagree with the official account that the trigger for the Kursk disaster was an antiquated 65-76PB torpedo, which exploded as soon as it was fired into the launch tube. According to the report, there was a leak of the fuel from the submarine projectile (hydrogen peroxide), a fire was declared and, as it spread to the rest of the ammunition, there was a second much stronger deflagration.
The case opened for the sinking of the submarine was shelved in 2002 for “constitutive absence of crime.” No one was guilty of anything, not the fleet commanders, not those conducting the naval exercises in the Barents Sea, not even those responsible for the manufacture and installation of the torpedoes.
Speaking to the Russian press, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Vladimir Komoyédov, said this week that “there are many unresolved questions (…) the investigation carried out at the time raises many doubts.” All the eyes of those who demanded that responsibilities be purged turned to Putin, who decided to exempt the military leadership from facing their responsibilities. He limited himself to blaming everything on the poor state of the fleet for the disastrous economic situation in which his successor, Boris Yeltsin, plunged the country and the “aftermath” of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Despite having a powerful weaponry, the Russian Armed Forces were in a deplorable state due to lack of budget. The funds available were not enough to pay the salaries of the military or to provide them with decent housing. Nor to acquire essential equipment such as diving suits or updated ammunition.
Putin drew two conclusions from that crisis: that he had to modernize his Armed Forces and that freedom of the press is a fearsome enemy for opaque, corrupt and undemocratic regimes. He acted accordingly.