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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Inaugurates Gepard Sub

APNavy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov giving President Vladimir Putin a tour of the Gepard nuclear submarine in Severodvinsk on Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday visited a northern shipyard to inaugurate a new nuclear submarine -- a trip intended to boost the navy's morale, sapped by the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine and the recent reshuffle of the Northern Fleet command.

Putin briskly walked to the Gepard nuclear submarine built by the Sevmash plant in Severodvinsk and welcomed the crew, which snapped to attention on the deck.

"I congratulate you on the launch of your submarine," Putin said. "The navy has received a ship it can be proud of."

Since the Soviet collapse, the navy has struggled to find funds to maintain and repair its ships and had to scale back its modernization program. The construction of Gepard, which began in 1991, had been stalled by a severe shortage of money.

Putin has won broad popularity thanks to his promises to end a decade of post-Soviet economic decline and restore Russia's might, and he used his trip to Severodvinsk to reaffirm his support for the military.

"The government feels acute concern about the navy and its modernization," Putin said in Severodvinsk. He promised that the state will finance the construction of several new submarines and surface ships.

The Northern Fleet chief, Vice Admiral Vladimir Dobroskochenko, hailed the government for the launching of the new submarine. "I feel proud for Russia and for the navy," he said Tuesday.

The Gepard, which means cheetah in Russian, was built by the same Sevmash shipyard that launched the Kursk and most other Soviet and Russian nuclear submarines.

The Kursk, which sank during a naval exercise in August 2000, killing all 118 men aboard, was raised from the Barents Sea floor in October. Officials say that the disaster was caused by an explosion of a practice torpedo, which triggered the detonation of combat weapons in the bow, but have so far failed to determine the nature of the initial blast.

Outside observers pointed at a torpedo's flaw as the most plausible reason, while many navy admirals claimed the catastrophe had likely been caused by a collision with a Western submarine.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov chided the navy chiefs for trying to pressure investigators into accepting the collision theory. "Some military leaders are trying to enforce one version on us -- that of a collision with another ship," he said in an interview published by the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda on Tuesday.

Last weekend, Ustinov told Putin that a probe had revealed that the naval maneuvers during which the Kursk sank were poorly organized. Putin immediately disciplined the culprits, and Northern Fleet Admiral Vyacheslav Popov was fired over the weekend along with his deputy. Other admirals were demoted. Officials said the dismissals weren't linked to the Kursk's sinking.

In an oblique reference to the disaster, Putin said that the navy must form an "efficient search and rescue service," while shipbuilders must work to make new vessels more safe and reliable.

He also urged the navy to strengthen discipline "to the point of pedantry." "The sea doesn't forgive neglect and mistakes," he said.