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The Kursk Incident

Kursk Sinks, and Russia Dies In Its Own Incompetence

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 16, 2000.

The impending, perhaps already accomplished, death of one hundred and sixteen Russian sailors aboard the Kursk holds our attention as we speak. This is made somewhat easier by the competition offered by the Democratic convention, held in the excitement Capital, Los Angeles. Although palpably less nauseating than the Republicans, the Democrats made a strong bid for the most revolting spectacle of the year, to be highlighted tonight with Gore and Lieberman speaking. Gad.

While this is going on, Russia continues its follies trying somehow to raise a submarine, one of its newest, in terrible weather in the Arctic Ocean at the same time it is trying to lower rescue bells to get the crew out. It ought to be pointed out that a diving bell is what the United States used sixty-five years ago to rescue the Squalus. We've improved some, have rescue subs that go down to 2000 feet, but the Russians apparently have never used this ancient concept of the bell before. In the old Soviet Navy, the Russians didn't think about this much. They have been saying that a valid concept is for the crew to leave the sub from the torpedo tubes. I realize that in desperate situations you do what you have to, and US submariners are told the same thing, but this has the whiff of the duck and cover method of radiation protection and, scarily, this was among the first things the Russians suggested would be the solution. Your lungs would burst before you got to the surface, three hundred and fifty feet above, but if you survived that you'd die of the bends, all of which is almost irrelevant because this takes place in the Arctic Ocean, many furlongs above the Arctic Circle. In comparison, the Titanic's passengers entered a bubble bath. The Russians would die seconds after entering the water from shock and hypothermia.

The Russians have lied all through this episode. Rather pointlessly, I might add, and with no hope of fooling anyone. Those waters are absolutely laced with western listening devices. First, the submarine was said to have had trouble on Sunday, but the Norwegians stated, and the Russians later admitted, that it was Saturday. It was hinted there was a collision, to suggest external presence, but it was an explosion, well documented, and Russian cameras of the sub show that it was an internal explosion. And they tell us there is no indication of a nuclear leak, and that the reactors have been turned off.

This is all suspicious. Why were the reactors turned off? They are generally mid-ship or towards the stern, far from the explosion. They are needed for electricity, and their absence has the crew trying to signal the surface by Morse code hammered against the hull, like in an old movie. If they were turned off, the captain felt the reactors were in danger of explosion or radiation leak. This implies greater damage than a torpedo explosion in the bow. If the reactor rooms are flooded, the contact of nuclear heat and cold water would cause great material stress and something could have, would have, cracked, and the radiation may have killed the initially surviving crew over a period of minutes or days. Doesn't take much. Further, why no rescue beacons, battery powered radio, anything beyond the hammering on the hull? Even that is now being softened. Maybe it was just contracting metal, and not code at all. In any case: it has stopped.

There are many things at stake here for the Russians. They have a military budget estimated to be one sixtieth of the United States'. They simply cannot afford a nuclear sub fleet. In fact, they cannot afford the military they have. But they send their guys out on these things with, essentially, no maintenance to speak of, no training, no live-fire drills. The morale in the military is rock bottom, especially in the Navy. They were offered Western help, from NATO and especially the United States and Britain, but until the last minute it was refused. They didn't want to face the humiliation and political fallout of accepting foreign help. They also won't particularly want to salvage the boat, because they simply cannot afford it. And the Kursk will lie as an environmental bomb on the ocean floor with the two American nuclear subs from the sixties and the other Soviet vessels throughout the years of the cold war. And the annoying thing is, the Russians have no need for a nuclear fleet any longer, if they ever did.

Early today, the Russians accepted British help with a rescue sub, previously flown to Norway. This probably only happened because of the lambasting the Navy has been taking in the press, and the public is demanding answers to the essential questions just touched upon. It is possible, but highly doubtful, that the British can help at this point. Still, if you lived through the Cold War, this is a pleasant addenda to a tragedy unneeded.