Monday, September 01, 2014


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Russia Marks 10th Anniversary Of 'Kursk' Disaster

The "Kursk" nuclear submarine, docked in Murmansk in 1999
The "Kursk" nuclear submarine, docked in Murmansk in 1999
By RFE/RL
Russia is marking the 10-year anniversary of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine tragedy.

The Russian Navy is flying its flags at half mast and naval officers and academies throughout Russia will observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the 118 sailors who died aboard the "Kursk." The Russian Orthodox Church will also celebrate a special Mass in honor of the crew.

On August 12, 2000, the "Kursk" -- the largest attack submarine ever built -- went out to perform a drill in the Barents Sea. The submarine did not send out a signal after one hour, as is standard naval procedure. It didn’t radio back after the routine three hours or six hours. After not hearing from the submarine for more than 11 hours, the Russian Navy declared it lost.

The Russian government initially rejected international offers of help, eventually accepting assistance from Great Britain and Norway. British and Norwegian divers reached the submarine on August 20 and determined there were no survivors.

Official reports state that the submarine sank following an explosion when one of its own torpedoes malfunctioned. 

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Igor Kudrin, representative of St. Petersburg’s Submarine Club, says that the Russian Navy has since added more rescue boats to its fleet and new submarines now have better alarm systems. But after 10 years, Kudrin believes little has changed in how the government responds to disasters.

“Just recently, a naval base near Moscow was on fire, and what did the government say? ‘Hey, it’s not mine – the base isn’t [my responsibility].’ And then after a couple of days it turns out that the base is ours," Kudrin says. "And it really resembles the 'Kursk' tragedy. And in this area, after 10 years, little has changed.”

Kudrin says that now, though, the Russian government is quick to ask for international help when needed and participates in international rescue practice missions.

Outraged Families


The tragedy outraged both the families of the lost submariners and the Russian public, who questioned why the navy took so long to respond and then so long to accept help.

A woman adjusts a wreath at a monument in Moscow to those who died in the "Kursk" disaster.
Almost two weeks after the "Kursk" sank, then Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation, expressing his deep sympathy for the families but also stating that no top military officials would be blamed for the disaster.

The "Kursk" had been lost for three days before the families of the men onboard were informed that the submarine had suffered an accident. The bodies of the 118 crew members were only retrieved a year and a half later.

Families who lost loved ones were given 10 years of salary -- around 720,000 rubles (approximately $26,000 by the exchange rate at the time) -- in compensation.

"I'm not 100 percent sure we'll ever be told [what happened], though. There will just be different versions, because that's what our country is like," Svetlana Kuznetsova, widow of Viktor Kuznetsov, a 28-year old officer who died on board, told the BBC.

In 2005, several families decided to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to investigate the tragedy. Based on a note written by Lieutenant Captain Dmitry Kolesnikov and found when the submarine was raised, the families believe that at least 23 members of the crew could have been saved if the Russian Navy had reacted quickly.

The case, however, was withdrawn for reasons that are unclear.

written by Ashley Cleek, with contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service
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