the Keystone cops undertook one hopeless attempt after another
to save the submarine crew, the 118 men under the sea slowly
suffocated. The lessons then are clear. As CNN put it: "The
parlous state of the Russian military raised questions among
observers as to why the Russian navy was conducting a 30-ship
exercise, including sophisticated submarines like the Kursk."
It was a point echoed in a Washington
editorial (and almost everywhere else): "What does
this incident reveal about whether Russia truly possesses
the money and trained personnel to operate safely the large
fleet of nuclear-powered ships not to mention the
vast arsenal of nuclear weapons that the great-power
ambitions of its current leaders seem to require?"
There can be only one answer to the question. The Russians
must give up their increasingly pathetic attempts at trying
to remain a superpower and accept the global dominance of
a US-led West.
in Slate, Anne Applebaum
put this argument at its starkest. Russia has a choice,
she explained. "It can go on 'pretending to be a great
power,' competing with the United States…or it can recognize
that its imperial days are over. Putin can salvage something
from this crisis, so to speak, only if he is intelligent
enough to use it as an excuse to retrench, to focus on Russia's
ailing economy…to start thinking about the plight of ordinary
Russians rather than the fate of 'Mother Russia.'"
If the Russians are lucky, they may yet get to live the
happy life accorded to small insignificant European powers
(whose fate is to be at the beck and call of great powers):
"President Putin could cut Russia's military expenditure
and military ambitions. Russia's annual budget expenditure,
after all, is a quarter the size of Holland's. Although
it would take a brave leader to reduce Russia's armed forces
to Dutch levels, to do so may be Russia's last chance at
retaining Holland's international influence." Applebaum's
choice of Holland is interesting. Next to Great Britain,
there is no other country in the world that follows America's
lead as slavishly as Holland.
Soviet era placed a low value on the lives of ordinary Russians,"
the Financial Times, "nowhere more than
in the armed forces where political leaders have accepted
loss of life on a scale unacceptable in the west."
The West does not accept loss of life when it comes to trained
soldiers. But it has no qualms about inflicting large-scale
loss of life on others particularly unarmed civilians.
Concern about Serb casualties was not exactly uppermost
in the minds of policymakers last year as they sent the
bombers and missiles happily on their way. The Financial
Times complains about "the residual Soviet obsession
with secrecy, shown by the reluctance to accept western
help and the limited and contradictory information released
to the public. Almost all the known facts have been revised
or modified over the week: the location and depth of the
submarine on the seabed; the number of sailors on board;
the status of rescue efforts; whether signs of life were
detected; how long the oxygen can last; even when the accident
happened." It is, of course, unheard of in the West
to provide erroneous or confused information about an accident
that later needs to be revised. The TWA 800 disaster took
place more than four years ago. Yet there is still dispute
as to the cause of the crash. During the investigation,
any number of theories have been put forward and widely
is it likely that if one of our nuclear-powered submarines
went down, the US Government would ask for help from other
countries? Would the prospect of Russian divers poking around
the wreckage be greeted with enthusiasm in Washington? Indeed,
can we even be certain that we would ever find out about
a US submarine disaster? NATO powers that detected the underwater
explosions could easily be prevailed on to keep this information
to themselves. As for the Russians, who would believe their
claims to have evidence of a US submarine blowing up? Certainly
not our gullible media.
to the secrecy," the FT continues, "is
the enduring refusal to make anyone personally accountable
for the submarine disaster, or the rescue operation."
This editorial was written a few days after the Kursk sank.
No one has any idea yet what happened in the Barents Sea,
but already the FT is demanding dismissals. It is
mass firings before any of the facts have been established
that marked the Soviet era.
us repeat: We have no idea what it was that sent the Kursk
to the bottom of the Barents Sea. We do not know whether
all or most of the crew perished following the massive explosions.
We do not know whether a Western rescue submarine could
have made a successful docking or not. We do not know if
anyone at all could have been rescued. Even if we do not
know what happened, it is clear already that the initial
cozy, comforting story of bumbling Ivan has little bearing
on reality. The Russians have insisted from the beginning
that the cause of the accident was a collision with another possibly
British, possibly American submarine. The damaged foreign
submarine then limped its way to a Norwegian port for repairs.
Both the British and the US Governments have denied this.
Needless to say, the media have accepted their denials without
the United States has admitted that two of its submarines
were in the vicinity of the Kursk just before the accident,
monitoring the Russian naval exercises. During the orgy
of denunciations of Russian imperial ambitions, no one thought
it relevant to ask why there were US submarines in the Barents
Sea hardly the US coastline? The Russians claim to have
found fragments of a foreign submarine near where the Kursk
sank. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has asserted that shortly
after the Kursk went down, men on two Russian ships detected
signs of a large underwater object in the vicinity, about
the same size as the Russian submarine. Moreover, at the
same time the Russians observed a signal buoy of the type
Western fleets use to send emergency messages by satellite
to their command bases.
the British and the Americans strenuously deny being involved
in a collision, it is "apparent that both governments,"
according to a Reuters story, "were withholding information
under their own longstanding refusal to comment on submarine
spying operations directed at the Russian fleet." In
other words, there is not the slightest reason to believe
their denials. Whether or not a collision took place, NATO
would deny it. "When Russian officials at NATO headquarters
inquired whether 'even one ship was there where the accident
took place, they told us no, there were no NATO ships there,'
the official said, adding that Russian officials had reported
back that they overheard 'conversation that if this incident
had happened,' NATO officials 'would never acknowledge it.'"
New York Times, in a rare moment of candor,
revealed the other day, that "during the cold war…on
more than a dozen occasions, Russian and Western submarines
banged into one another." Moreover, the Times
goes on, "the Russians have long resented the fact
that many of the collisions occurred in or near their waters
and, in their view, amounted to hit-and-run jobs, as American
and British spy submarines quickly fled to safety."
"In or near the waters" so much then for
Russia's aggressive imperial designs! There are no instances
of collisions taking place in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean.
Thus Russian suspicions about US submarines are scarcely
without foundation. A recent
AP story recounted the 1968 sinking of a Soviet submarine.
"Russian officials long have suspected that the Soviet
sub K-129 was struck by an American submarine, the USS Swordfish.
But the US Navy says the Soviet vessel, armed with nuclear
missiles and with a crew of 98, suffered a catastrophic
internal explosion when it sank in the central Pacific on
March 11, 1968. As recently as last fall, Russian government
officials complained that Washington was covering up its
involvement." The Russians say that six days after
the accident, the USS Swordfish docked at Yokosuka, Japan
to repair a bent periscope. The Americans claim that the
Swordfish collided with an ice pack and was 2,000 miles
away from the K-129 when it sank. However, the AP story
goes on, "Moscow has requested the Swordfish's deck
logs, to trace its movements, but the Pentagon has refused.
The Swordfish apparently had a hand in some highly sensitive
operations before and after the K-129 incident."