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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Pledges Probe Into Kursk Disaster

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he felt guilt and responsibility over the Kursk submarine tragedy and pledged that those responsible for the deaths of 118 sailors would be punished, if they were found.

But there would be no hasty decisions, he said, adding that he had refused to accept the resignations offered by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov and navy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov.

"I have a great feeling of responsibility and guilt for this tragedy," Putin said on RTR television, leaving long pauses between his carefully chosen words.

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

Putin, dressed in a black suit and sitting in front of a Russian flag, said he had been deeply upset when he met the families of the Kursk crew Tuesday in a charged meeting at which the relatives were allowed to interrogate the president and express their sadness.

Putin said he did not have the words to explain how he felt at that meeting. "First of all about the meeting, what can I say here. Words are not enough, they are difficult to find. I want to wail," he said.

"Yesterday and today, rather experienced people, politicians, have said that I must show a strong character and should sack somebody … and best of all, put someone in jail — but this is the most simple way out of this situation and in my opinion would be a mistake," he said.

"It has been like that before," he said, in what may have been a reference to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who often sacked those in power at times of crisis.

Putin said the tragedy would be thoroughly investigated.

"Nothing will be done, I repeat, until a full understanding has been gained about what happened and why," Putin said. "[We need to find] if there are guilty, truly guilty, or simply a confluence of tragic circumstances."

Wednesday was a national day of mourning for the Kursk crew, but their relatives boycotted the public outpouring of grief.

After meeting with the families on the closed Vidyayevo naval base near Murmansk, Putin had been expected to fly to the site of the disaster. But ORT television showed wives of dead sailors late on Tuesday urging Putin not to do this.

They said such events should be postponed until the bodies were recovered, perhaps fearing any ceremony could suggest officials had given up hope even of recovering the bodies.

But a spokesman for the Norwegian company whose divers opened the hatch on the Kursk on Monday and found it flooded said recovering the bodies might have to wait until next year.

Mourning ceremonies in Vidyayevo, including a church service, were canceled, a navy spokesman said.

Despite urging Putin not to travel to the disaster site, where the Kursk lies 108 meters down on the bed of the Barents Sea, some relatives were to sail there Thursday.

Putin was criticized at the meeting in Vidyayevo for what many saw as a casual approach to the disaster and a failure to prod generals into action during the week of uncertainty over whether the trapped submarine crew were still alive, and he struggled at times to make himself heard.

Elsewhere in the country, church services were held Wednesday, some television stations aired classical music or war films and a minute’s silence was observed on some chat shows discussing the Kursk.

Russia’s most popular web site,, where jokes are usually posted, shut for the day and presented a black screen.

The government has promised to look after the relatives and Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko was quoted by Interfax as saying families would get average compensation worth $7,000, amounting to more than 10 years’ pay.

Matviyenko, heading a special government commission, said military insurance would pay out a total of 23 million rubles ($830,000). The sum includes 120 average monthly wages for each man plus a one-time payment equal to 25 monthly wages.

Ecologists have expressed fears the Kursk’s reactors present a threat to the environment, but Norwegian experts said they had found no evidence of radiation leaks.

The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority said it had tested water from inside and outside the vessel and also checked background radiation at stations in Norway, Sweden and Finland. 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)