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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Doomed by the System, Saved by Putin

The Priz mini-submarine was pried from the depths of the sea with the help of British and U.S. rescuers. Meanwhile, for the last month, the Russian media have been snickering over the misadventures of the space shuttle Discovery.

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The pleasure that a certain portion of the Russian public takes in their neighbor's misfortune reveals a surprising difference in cultures and worldviews.

Nothing truly awful befell the shuttle, after all. But in the United States, the system does not punish people for being overly cautious and interrupting a launch. They are only punished when human lives are lost.

After all the trouble with the Discovery came the Priz crisis. The cultural difference between the United States and Russia became strikingly clear. No crash ensued from the Discovery's problems; NASA officials merely put off the launch over and over and dealt with the difficulties in space. They knew that public ridicule might smart but that a disaster would end their careers.

Though the Priz had been stuck for some time, military officials did not announce the accident. Then, one of the crew members' wives called a local radio station in Petropalovsk-Kamchatsky and the truth surfaced.

You can understand their reluctance to face public scorn: Navy officials had just announced that they had successfully conducted naval exercises. And Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had just won a battle against the U.S. television network ABC, which aired an interview with Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev.

In all likelihood, military officials would have preferred to keep quiet about the Priz, if they had had their way. They knew that every minute counted and that the oxygen supply would only last for so long. But in addition to dreading the potential loss of face, they could not bring themselves to ask for help from the imperialists, when the mini-submarine was tangled in an underwater surveillance device designed to keep those very imperialists at bay.

In the end, they did just that. Why? Probably because President Vladimir Putin ordered them to.

The moment Putin was informed about the Priz, he made a decision. You can imagine him telling his men that all their secrecy and underwater devices didn't matter; the crew had to be saved. So naval officials hustled and called for foreign help.

Putin was haunted by the ghost of the Kursk. At that time, he was given reports that the Kursk problem was about to be resolved. He later ordered military officials to let foreign rescuers help, but it was already too late.

This time, the president did not buy the military's reassuring reports.

Naturally, this is all hypothetical, this theory that the president personally ordered the top brass to get outside help. But I can't come up with any other force besides the president that would be strong enough to make the military do an about-face.

I am not trying to make some big statement about this system, where only the president can make certain decisions.

In more rational systems, such decisions are made at a lower level. For example, when Japanese military officials received the Russian call for help, they sent ships first and then asked for permission from the government.

I am merely stating a fact. The seven men aboard the Priz nearly died because of the way the system established under Putin functions. This system makes ABC public enemy No. 1 and makes hiding dirty laundry the government's main priority.

The Priz's seven crew members owe Putin their lives. Putin went against the system.

Will he be able to do the same thing in other situations? Like, say, when 2008 rolls around?

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show in Ekho Moskvy radio.



http://www.themoscowtimes.com/indexes/2001/09/05/89.html The Kursk Tragedy