IN THE NEWS #443 - Sinking of the Kursk

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

This week the Russian government opened a criminal investigation into the sinking of the submarine Kursk. The Kursk sank two weeks ago during training exercises in the Barents Sea, near the northern coast of Russia. All one-hundred-eighteen crew members were killed.

The sinking has seriously damaged the image of the Russian navy. Only a few weeks earlier, President Vladimir Putin had praised the navy as evidence of Russia's power.

The Kursk was a modern nuclear-powered submarine. It was built to attack and destroy enemy ships. Russian military leaders have been concerned about the condition of submarines built when Russia was part of the Soviet Union. However, the Kursk had been sailing for only five years.

In the past ten years, government investment in Russia's nuclear navy has decreased sharply. The number of nuclear submarines is said to be one-third of what it was. The United States and other nations are providing aid to retire the older nuclear submarines and prevent radiation leaks. Military experts also question the condition of some still being used.

It is still not clear what happened to the Kursk. At first, Russian officials said another ship had hit the submarine. Later, they said an explosion on the Kursk had caused it to sink. Norwegian and British officials accused the Russian navy of disinformation, and of slowing their attempts to rescue the crew.

Russian officials were accused of trying to control reports about the sinking to protect the military and hide its failures. The government may have also been concerned about releasing official secrets.

The government's actions during the crisis angered many Russians. Some were shocked to learn their navy could not rescue the crew. Others say the government took too long to accept offers of help from other countries.

Independent Russian television showed families of the sailors on the Kursk expressing their anger at top government officials. Newspapers published crew lists and criticized conflicting official statements.

Some people see one good thing resulting from the crisis. They say it could help to end government controls on information. The former Soviet Union tightly controlled information. Fourteen years ago, Soviet leaders did not tell the truth about the health risks of the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power station. They offered no explanations and did not apologize.

President Putin has accepted responsibility for the Kursk tragedy. Some observers say this could show a growing understanding of the power of public opinion and an open media. However, some reporters fear that the Russian government will move to restrict the media, and its criticism.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English