Page Nav



Classic Header


Breaking News:


Flashback: The Time Putin Abandoned 118 Russian Sailors to Die

  If you’re wondering why Vladimir Putin would order an aggressive invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster displayed ...

 If you’re wondering why Vladimir Putin would order an aggressive invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster displayed deep character flaws of the longtime Russian president more than two decades before.

Putin was responsible for a careless and indifferent governmental response to the disaster, which involved a Russian nuclear submarine sinking to the ocean floor after a training exercise accident.

The Oscar-II class submarine Kursk went missing in the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000.

The Russian navy, unprepared for a technically complex submarine exercise in rescue or recovery, did not tell the public that the Kursk was unaccounted for until two days.

The governments of Norway and the United Kingdom stepped forward immediately after knowledge of the disaster became public, offering full assistance in a rescue operation.

Putin, then in his first term as Russian president, initially refused to accept aid from the two NATO countries, even as the families of the Kursk’s crew waited for a rescue operation that would save their sons and husbands — while hope remained that they were still alive.

Putin’s refusal to accept help to save more than a hundred of his country’s servicemen amounted to an example of petulant nihilism rarely seen so openly in global politics.

In even more callous fashion, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recounted in a 20th-anniversary piece on the disaster, Putin continued a vacation at his personal Black Sea resort, as the Russian navy scrambled to rescue the crew of the Kursk.

A History Channel documentary broke down the bottomless pit of corruption in the Russian government surrounding the disaster, ranging from Putin to the deceptive Russian navy:

Putin only finally accepted British and Norwegian help five days after the Kursk sank.

Norwegian deep-sea divers reached the vessel four days later, only to confirm that all of the submarine’s crew had died, as The New York Times reported at the time.

Russian navy officials imposed crippling restrictions on the role of outside militaries in the rescue effort, claiming that they knew the crew was dead already.

Russians were leery of NATO surveillance of the nuclear submarine, even in spite of the extreme circumstances.

Russian government officials have dismissed the disaster with uncorroborated conspiracy theories in the decades since the incident.

In 2021, the retired admiral who’d been in command of the training exercise claimed that an American submarine damaged the Kursk through a collision while shadowing Russian sub, according to The Associated Press.

Admiral Vyacheslav Popov was strongly criticized for his laggard response to the disaster, with the documentary breaking down failures throughout his chain of command.

Claims of a collision contradict the findings of the Russian government investigation in the disaster, which found that a faulty weld in a practice torpedo set off the explosion that sank the submarine.

A secondary, powerful explosion took place when the Kursk collided with the ocean floor, with at least seven additional torpedoes set off by the collision.

An investigation broken down in the History Channel’s documentary found that the majority of the Kursk’s crewmembers were killed in the initial ocean floor collision explosion.

Twenty-three sailors moved to a safe compartment of the vessel.

They would later die when an attempt to replace chemical oxygen equipment led to a fire, consuming the breathable air in the ship’s compartment eight hours after the sinking.

The surviving sailors left behind letters that were recovered by recovery divers. A 2000 ABC News report detailed the contents of the grim documents at the time.

The circumstances of the sailors’ deaths were published in a four-page summary of the Russian government’s investigation, which was originally published in the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to The Moscow Times, an independent, English-language online newspaper based in Russia.

The state investigation pointed to “stunning breaches of discipline, shoddy, obsolete and poorly maintained equipment” as the cause for the crash, The Moscow Times reported. Claims of an undersea collision, with a submarine or another object, were never substantiated.

Putin’s mismanagement of the Kursk bungled rescue operation led to a high mark of criticism against the president.

As oligarchs loyal to Putin consolidated Russia’s media in the years to come, public memory of the Kursk disaster faded in the country, ignored as an inconvenient moment in history to Putin’s regime, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported in its anniversary coverage.

According to a New York Post report from 2000, the mother of a sailor who died onboard the Kursk was forcibly sedated in a meeting between families and a Russian Navy official, in a moment reminiscent of the country’s Stalinist past. 

The disaster could be likened to a case of the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, during President Barack Obama’s administration, in which careless government officials betrayed the life-and-death interests of their servicemen in favor of political convenience.

Except the death toll was much, much higher. Four Americans died in the Benghazi attack.

The bodies of Kursk’s crew would later be recovered from the watery grave and buried in Russia.

The stain of crass politics in the affair, incompetence, and a botched rescue should remain on Vladimir Putin’s conscience, 22 years later — if he’s even capable of self-reflection.

No comments