Before his release from duty, Admiral Kuroedov announced that a further 20 percent of the fleet would have to be scrapped because the navy had received just 12 percent of the funds needed to keep its ships seaworthy. The far-flung ports of the Russian fleet are littered with the rotting carcasses of a navy that once vied with the United States for control of the world's sea-lanes. The truth is Russia is decommissioning its battle fleet so fast it doesn't have the means to scrap the ships.
Russian military expert Pavel Felgengauer suggests that the real situation may be even worse than the Russian admiralty admits.
"We have only just several ships that can really sail and some subs that can go out, but the really operational part of the navy is only a small fraction of the entire inventory that they have," Felgengauer said.
Last year, Kuroedev himself highlighted the deepening plight of the service when he ordered Russia's flagship nuclear battle cruiser, the "Peter the Great," back to port, saying it could explode at any moment. He said he was particularly concerned about the state of the on-board reactor and the training of the crew. According to Felgengauer, few of his fellow admirals will be sorry to see him leave.
"The Russian Navy is dominated by admirals who graduated from submarines and Kuroedov was not from the submarines; he is from the sort of coastal mosquito fleet," Felgengauer said. "And they saw him as an outsider and a person who doesn't understand much. Obviously, after a number of submarines were lost -- not only the 'Kursk' but the K-159 and, of course, there was the recent disaster with the mini-submarine in Kamchatka."
The case of the K-159 did much to accelerate an already fast declining reputation. On 30 August 2003, at a time of rock-bottom morale in the submarine fleet and just three years after 118 sailors had died in the Kursk disaster, the aging K-159 sank as it was being towed to shipyards for dismantling. It should never have put to sea -- conditions were too rough and safety procedures were not observed. When the tow rope snapped, the submarine plunged beneath the waves taking nine of its 10-man crew with it.
Kuroedov survived the criticisms of sloppiness and poor training -- just as he had survived the torrent of criticism that came his way after the "Kursk" tragedy. But he seems not to have learned from the mistakes of the past. Last month, when a Priz AS-28 mini-submersible became trapped on the ocean bed with its oxygen supplies fast running out, the navy again hid behind a smokescreen of contradictory and slowly leaked information. Kuroedov was savaged by the media.
President Putin was careful not to present Kuroedov's removal from office as a dismissal but his age -- at 61 he was due for retirement -- and a long illness presented Putin with an opportunity to get rid of a man who had increasingly become an embarrassment.
His successor is Admiral Vladimir Masorin, until now chief of naval staff and deputy commander of the fleet. He faces an unenviable task: how to redefine the role of the navy at a time of shrinking funds but lingering superpower ambitions.
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