Russian incompetence or western sabotage?
At 0728 and 0739 GMT on 12 August 2000, a Norwegian seismic institution detected tremors in the Barents sea, the second of which registered 3.5 on the Richter scale. Shortly afterwards it became known that the Russian submarine
, which was participating in naval training exercises in the area, had been fatally wounded and had sunk. An
had appeared on
“the right-hand side of the
‘s nose … Water flooded in, causing the pride of the Russian submarine force to sink in seconds”
(Nicholas Rufford and Stephen Gray, ‘Secret torpedo test blew sub apart’,
27 August 2000). The damage, however, must have been far more extensive that simply damage to the nose. According to Anthony Watts, editor of
Jane’s Underwater warfare systems,
There are 10 watertight compartments in that class of submarine. It can withstand flooding of two or three compartments and remain afloat.”
, however, sank. 14 August was the last time anybody heard any signs of life aboard, when the words ‘SOS water’ were tapped out in morse code from inside the vessel. By the time it was possible for a sufficiently sophisticated, British, rescue vessel to reach the scene, over a week after the event, nobody at all of the
‘s crew was left alive. All were found to have drowned.
The British media have used this tragedy in a sickeningly cynical manner in order to rally jingoistic support for British imperialism on the one hand and to denigrate the present Russian regime on the other. British imperialism was depicted as being full of concern for the victims, anxious to ride to the rescue of the stricken vessel to lend a sporting hand, equipped as its navy was with all the very latest in deep-sea technology. The Russian regime, on the other hand, was depicted as having, from a sense of false pride and intolerable arrogance, refused this totally altruistic offer until it was too late, callously leaving its own people to die in the icy cold and pitch black waters of the Barents sea. Russia’s President, Putin, was denounced as someone who couldn’t even be bothered to break off his holiday to deal with a tragedy of such magnitude for the Russian people, and the sinking of the submarine was attributed to the incompetence, corruption and neglect of the Russian regime.
It is thus clear that, notwithstanding the demise of communism in the former Soviet Union, as far as the British imperialist media are concerned, Russia is still very much the enemy. It is so because the new Russian bourgeoisie is perceived to be by and large refusing to become merely a comprador bourgeoisie, i.e., one which represents only the interests of foreign imperialism in their country – a perception that is given credence by some of the actions of the Putin government. That was not the reason the Russian new bourgeoisie overthrew communism. It had envisaged that once communism had built the Soviet Union into a superpower, the new bourgeoisie would push the proletariat aside and take over at the helm. Russia’s new bourgeoisie was very lovey-dovey with western imperialism when it was a question of overthrowing communism, but now that same bourgeoisie is divided into national and comprador camps, and it would seem likely, for the moment at least, that it is the national bourgeoisie which has managed to seize the reins of power and whose interests Vladimir Putin represents. Thus Putin, like all leaders of national bourgeois movements unwilling to bend the knee to western imperialism, is being ‘Saddamised’ in the imperialist media, i.e., vilified and demonised to the point of absurdity.
What was the cause of the sinking of the
Completely different causes for the sinking of the
are put forward by the imperialist press on the one hand and the Russian press on the other.
According to the imperialist press, the cause was the
“decaying state of Russia’s once powerful navy”
(see Mark Franchetti, ‘Putin throws a billion’). Torpedo-launching equipment failed and as a result torpedoes exploded inside the submarine. “
Western military experts … believe a test firing went disastrously wrong, igniting highly inflammable propellant and detonating missile and torpedo warheads”
). The accident is thus being blamed on the fact that the Russian armed forces are not being supplied by the Russian regime with the funds to keep their equipment in order. In response to the news that Putin had determined, as a result of the sinking of the
spending next year by as much as $3 billion … to $8.4 billion – more than the increase planned before the
proffers the advice:
Many analysts are dubious … that such an increase will go any way to addressing the fundamental problems faced by Russia’s chronically underfunded armed forces. Rather than trying to increase the budget … the Kremlin should finally accept the country’s loss of superpower status and scale back on the massive commitments it inherited from the Soviet Union.”
In other words, western imperialism is pouring scorn on the hopes of the Russian national bourgeoisie fulfilling its ambition itself to become an imperialist power, advising it for its own good to give up the unequal struggle now. After all, the US spends $280 billion on defence. Can’t you see it’s hopeless to try to compete?
Time will show whether Putin will allow himself to be intimidated. In the meantime, however, a very different version of events is coming from the Russian press. The newspaper
of 22 August carried an interview with a former submarine commander, rear-admiral Anatoly Tikhonovich Shtyrov, who takes the view that the most probable cause of the sinking was a collision with another submarine, either American or British. Asked whether the
events were reminiscent of those surrounding the sinking of the submarine K129 in the north Pacific in 1968, Shtyrov replied:
“It’s not just reminiscent. I was struck by the close similarity of the two tragic scenarios – and of the stories emanating from either side by way of explanation. Just consider! Some days after the disappearance in the northern pacific of our own submarine, a US submarine, Swordfish,
limps into the Japanese port of Yokosuka with a badly-damaged deck-cabin rail. It is quickly patched up and thereafter returns to its base, not to emerge again to public view for 18 months. That’s how long the damage actually took to repair. Its crew were required to sign undertakings to keep silent about what happened, while the Pentagon went ahead immediately to launch its own version of events, according to which the Russian submarine had suffered the explosion of an accumulator battery on board. I can say with every confidence that never in the history of submarines has a single one lost its hermetic seal and sunk as a result of a battery explosion on board.
“Today history is repeated. The Kursk
is upended on the sea bed, with a characteristic hole in the side, a hole typical of an external hit – a hole of obvious external origin, according to the government’s commission of enquiry. Just as in the case of K-129, the
‘s periscope and other moveable parts are out. As in the case of the
back in 1968, a NATO nuclear submarine
has asked for assistance, in this case in a Norwegian port, and it is one of the foreign submarines which were in the area when the Russian northern fleet’s military exercise was being conducted.
[The reference is to the appearance, on 17 August 2000, reported by the French newspaper
of the US submarine
at a Norwegian port for the purpose of repairs].
As in 1968, the Pentagon straight away started on about ‘an internal explosion’ in the Russian submarine. A painful similarity indeed.
… But it wasn’t just ‘one click sound’ that was registered by, among others, our own naval vessel
Pyotr Velikiy [
Peter the Great
There were two enormous hits at an interval of 2 minutes 12 seconds. Wouldn’t a collision of two colossal submarines, one of 18,000 tons and the other of at least 6,000 register as such
Captain A Ephanov, who commands a submarine similar to the
was also interviewed and said:
The Russian NTV station
[the most pro-Western TV station in Russia]
has reported the American claim that on the
a torpedo that was not yet fully launched started to burn and because of this the two torpedoes in the neighbouring bays exploded. That is complete and utter nonsense. Nobody uses real torpedoes during exercises, only the special ones which do not carry explosives…
Another important thing is that the
was found with its periscope up. Today’s nuclear submarines, even the diesel ones, do not shoot with their periscopes up. That has not been done since WWII.
There were rumours we were testing top secret weapons? Who on earth tests such weapons in international waters during regular exercises? We have facilities for that in our enclosed internal waters.
But the US has officially confirmed there were at least two American submarines and one British one near the area at the time. It is claimed they were at least 200 miles from the
but that is just said for public consumption. Had they really been so far away they would simply not have been able to fulfil the function for which they were there, i.e., to collect technical and hydro-accoustic intelligence data and keep an eye on our submarines from within torpedo range. In reality – and this can be confirmed by any commander who has sailed the Atlantic – the distance between submarines in such a situation is often less than a kilometre. Some foreign commanders like to impress their crew and their bosses by diving under a targeted submarine. This kind of showing off may have cost the life of K129 and probably also of K219 in 1986, when the US nuclear submarine
was fooling around in the sea, as reported in a book ‘Hostile Waters’ by Capt. Peter Hoohthausen and officers R Alan White and Igor Kudrin, recently published in the US.”
Furthermore, Arkady Mamontov, a Russian TV journalist attached to the main Russian RTR channel, reported that unmarked rescue buoys of foreign origin had been picked up by the
Rescue buoys are always carried by submarines but are required to be marked with the name or number of the vessel to which they belong. Since they were unmarked, it means the marks had been deliberately removed. Who would do that if not a spy submarine? This fact lends considerable credence to the Russian version of events.
Finally, even some journalists of the British imperialist press are suspicious of the version of events they have been asked to publicise:
“…Surprising, though, is how little American authorities have said about the tragedy. An American submarine was close enough to the naval exercises to detect the underwater explosions. Also patrolling nearby was the Loyal
, a spy ship that tows a sensitive sonar array.
Both should have been able to piece together the events that sank the
If they did, they are keeping quiet about it. The cold war lives on.”
It remains to be seen how long it will be before the real truth of the tragic events of 12 August is established.