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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Unfit for New Toys

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The authorities have at long last begun to expose the real causes of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster in the Barents sea in August 2000 that killed 118 sailors.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov has told reporters that there were no foreign (U.S. or British) submarines near the Kursk when it went down. This is the first formal affirmation by the authorities that navy chiefs were lying when they insisted for more than a year that a mysterious "foreign submarine" sank the Kursk.

Naval chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov confessed that the Kursk was sunk by an explosion of fuel inside a faulty practice torpedo, which the navy uses during exercises, reloads with fuel, and uses again. An error in procedure during fuel reloading could have made the torpedo unstable and caused the fatal explosion. Kuroyedov announced that in the future, torpedoes of this type will be removed from service.

Ustinov pointed to sloppy conduct and lack of discipline as being among the main causes of the Kursk disaster: Cockpit recorders on the boat were not switched on during the August 2000 exercises, emergency rescue equipment was disactivated, and so on.

Military prosecutors investigating the sinking of the Kursk say that if all the requisite safety regulations had been adhered to before the Kursk left port and during the exercise itself, the sunken submarine would have been found by other Russian ships an hour or less after the explosion. This is because an emergency buoy would have floated to the surface equipped with a communications device that could have made it possible to contact the 23 sailors that survived the blast in the stern compartments of the Kursk. And some or all of the survivors might have been saved.

Investigators have found that the stern emergency buoy of the Kursk survived the explosion on board and was functional. This buoy was designed to be released automatically in the case of a disaster; but the crew, to prevent an undesirable self-activation that would have disclosed the location of the submarine during exercises, had deliberately deactivated it.

Last December, after receiving a preliminary report from Ustinov, President Vladimir Putin removed Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov from military service, along with his chief of staff, Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak, and 12 other high-ranking naval officials for mismanagement of the exercise in which the Kursk sunk.

But the public punishment of the guilty could hardly be called impressive. After being ousted, Popov was soon appointed a member of the Federation Council. Motsak is now an important federal government official in St. Petersburg. And Kuroyedov, who many times publicly supported the fictitious cover-up story that the Kursk was sunk by a foreign submarine, is still chief of the navy.

Low morale and bad discipline in the ranks of the military has caused many disasters in recent years. Hundreds of lives in Chechnya were lost because drunken or otherwise unfit commanders put their own men in jeopardy. Drunk, undisciplined or out-of-control soldiers have gone on sprees, abusing and killing Chechens. The upshot is only greater resistance, putting Russia in a situation in which it cannot possibly win.

Almost a year ago, Putin appointed his close personal friend and associate, former KGB General Sergei Ivanov, as defense minister. Putin wanted Ivanov to reverse the decline of Russia's military and begin long awaited reforms.

Ivanov recently told reporters that his greatest achievement since appointment has been a drastic reallocation of defense spending and that in the coming year up to 50 percent of the defense budget will be spent on procurement and development of new weapons. But is there any sense in procuring new weapons to arm Russia's undisciplined forces?

The Kursk was one of the country's most modern submarines. It belonged to the Oscar II class, considered by Western naval specialists to be a very potent sea weapon. However, it went down because of lack of discipline.

Moral and professional decay in the military has only been increasing while Ivanov has been busy trying to procure new weapons. Recently, several soldiers deserted from their units with arms and killed policemen, servicemen and civilians -- more than 10 people in total. Control in military units seems to be almost completely absent. If in its present state the military receives new and more effective weapons, it may well do the nation considerably more harm than good.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.