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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Distrust of U.S. Harks Back to ’68 Loss of Sub

WASHINGTON — Russia’s initial suspicion of a sinister American role in the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk is rooted in distrust of U.S. motives — distrust so firmly held that Russian officials still press for answers in the sinking of a Soviet sub in 1968.

Russian officials long have suspected that the Soviet sub K-129 was struck by a U.S. submarine, the USS Swordfish. But the U.S. Navy says the Soviet vessel, armed with nuclear missiles and with a crew of 98, suffered a catastrophic internal explosion when it sank in the central Pacific on March 11, 1968, with more than 90 crew members on board.

Click here to read our Special Report on the Kursk Tragedy.

As recently as last fall, Russian government officials complained that Washington was covering up its involvement.

One accused the Americans of acting like a "criminal that had been caught and now claimed that guilt must be proved," according to the notes of a U.S. participant in a November 1999 meeting on the topic.

The case is so sensitive that at least two CIA directors — Robert Gates and James Woolsey — met with Boris Yeltsin while he was president to review what the U.S. spy agency knew about the sub loss.

The Russians believe not only that a U.S. submarine — the USS Swordfish, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — collided with the K-129, causing it to sink, but also that secret U.S. salvage operations in 1968 and 1974 removed remains of crew members and highly sensitive equipment that went down with the sub — possibly including nuclear warheads.

Russian suspicions about the Swordfish are based on records indicating it underwent nighttime repair of a bent periscope at Yokosuka, Japan, on March 17 — six days after the K-129 sank.

The U.S. explanation is that the Swordfish collided with an ice pack and was more than 3,000 kilometers from the Russian sub when it sank.

Moscow has requested the Swordfish’s deck logs, to trace its movements, but the Pentagon has refused. The Swordfish apparently had a hand in some highly sensitive operations before and after the K-129 incident. Navy records show that in 1965 it was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for "special operations" conducted in the western Pacific in the fall of 1963 and 1964 and the spring and summer of 1965.

The United States denies any involvement in the K-129 sinking, although it has acknowledged that it salvaged some parts of the sunken sub. U.S. officials provided the Russian government with a videotape of a burial-at-sea ceremony for six crew members whose remains were recovered when the CIA-financed Glomar Explorer salvage ship recovered parts of the submarine in 1974. Soviet-Style Secrecy Endures in Sub Crisis, The Washington Post, Aug. 19. The Bellona Foundation Russian Naval Forces, The Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University Oscar II: Jane's Naval Forces Oscar: Federation of American Scientists Perry Slingsby Systems: the LR5 submarine Kursk Tragedy: A Message Board Save Their Souls: A Message Board on the Kursk Tragedy (in Russian) The Russian Ministry of Defense (in Russian)