Russia marks submarine loss under shadow of new tragedy

12th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Thursday marked the grim 10 year anniversary of the horrific sinking of the Kursk submarine with the loss of all on board as it reeled from its latest deadly summer calamity.

With Russia this summer devastated by heatwaves and wildfires, critics said the authorities had learned little in their attitude towards preventing and minimising catastrophes.

The Kursk was on manoeuvres in the Barents Sea on August 12, 2000 when it sank with the loss of all 118 aboard. An inquiry found that a torpedo had exploded, detonating all the others.

The catastrophe become a byword for Russia reluctance of the authorities to divulge information and was notorious for the slow reaction of then president Vladimir Putin who stayed on holiday by the Black Sea.

Vyacheslav Popov, who was commander of the Russia's Northern Fleet at the time of the tragedy, told the Interfax news agency that huge strides in security had been made since the catastrophe.

"After the events 10 years ago, the armed forces and the navy made serious conclusions over increasing the possibilities of saving people in the sea and in particular underwater."

"The navy now has what we did not have 10 years ago," he added.

The first announcement of the disaster on August 12 came several hours after it had occurred and the international search operation took almost a week to start.

The confirmation that all those on board had died came only on August 20.

"Impossible (to remember) without swearing or tears," said the opposition Novaya Gazeta in a hard-hitting article on how the relatives were coping with the impact of the Kursk disaster.

Another former commander of the Northern Fleet, Oleg Erofeyev, said Thursday the disaster had forced the authorities to transform their attitude to safety management.

"This forced us to think that people have to be looked after carefully, to plan naval activities well and to be careful with the manufacture of weapons," he told a memorial meeting in Moscow, Interfax said.

The press has lambasted the authorities for the slack response to the wildfire tragedy that has killed over 50, which included episodes like the mayor of Moscow staying on holiday as the fires raged.

Meanwhile, in a scenario eerily reminiscent of other disasters in Russia, other local bosses provided assurances that their regions were safe from fires, statements that turned to be false.

"It's similar. They have not learned their lessons. And this whole situation (with the fires) shows this," leading Russian sociologist Yevgeny Gontmakher told AFP.

He said that despite the claims of Putin's supporters to have created an effective "power vertical" in Russia, the reaction to fires showed that the system of command was not working.

"This is because power in Russia is not constructed along a power vertical. There is no vertical, power has become segmentalised and this is why the reaction is ineffective," he said.

Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said: "Russia did not have the equipment to save the Kursk sailors, and it is not there to put the fires out. The quality of state management is very low."

"The decisions taken 10 years ago did not help improve the efficiency of the authorities."

Russia has over the last years become notorious for calamities breaking during the summer months, a period when top officials quit their offices for weeks on end for seasonal breaks.

The summer of 2004 saw the massacre at Beslan school in the Caucasus, while last year was shadowed by a disaster at the country's biggest hydroelectric plant that claimed dozens of lives.

© 2010 AFP

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