The Guardian

The Guardian August 30, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Cold War breaks out

What a Cold War field day the capitalist media had with the sinking of 
the Kursk and the loss of its 118 crew. Although they began by 
reporting the story more or less straight-forwardly as a disaster at sea, 
they very quickly  and simultaneously  found a more politically 
desirable line: an all out attack on the Russian Navy, the Russian 
Government and particularly President Putin.

Consider how very different the media's approach would have been if the 
stricken sub had been, say, French.

But the Kursk was Russian, so the capitalist media tried their very 
best to convince the world that the Russian Navy had doomed the crew by 
needless delays and "obsessive secrecy".

But the head of Russia's Navy, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, warned early on 
that there was little hope: "The prognosis for the possible consequences of 
the accident on the lives of its crew appear grim."

The nuclear sub was 150 metres down, listing 60 degrees, with damaged 
escape hatches and partially or possibly completely flooded.

Although some early reports claimed that tapping could be heard on the 
sub's hull, this was contradicted by the US military, whose undersea 
listening posts dot the area.

The US claimed they heared no signs of life on the ship after the accident.

Nevertheless, in the best manner of the capitalist media, reporters went 
scurrying off to Kursk, where most of the crew are drawn from, to find 
frantic wives and mothers to make emotional appeals for the authorities to 
rescue the crew.

These appeals were then played up as evidence of sagging support for 
President Putin and confirmation that the Russian navy was inhuman and 
uncaring.

While these statements were given prominence on TV to the exclusion after a 
while of almost any other aspect of the story, the unsensational comments 
of the wife of the ship's Captain Genagy Liachin  expressing her 
confidence that everything that could be done was being done and that when 
there was any news she and the other wives and mothers would be informed  
was buried near the end of articles in the print media and did not make it 
to television at all.

Had she railed against the Russian Government she would surely have been 
assured of international prominence!

In between having potshots at President Putin, the monopoly newspapers and 
TV gleefully seized on the Russian Navy's frustrated efforts to effect 
entry to the flooded sub as evidence of its incompetence, inefficiency, 
unpreparedness, carelessness and even callousness.

After the initial reports, which did emphasise the complexity and 
difficulties of any rescue attempt, the media switched to sneering at the 
Russians for relying on their own equipment instead of calling in Western 
aid.

Western technology, it was implied, would naturally be superior to anything 
the Russians could have.

The Russian rescue efforts were in fact considerable, and in difficult 
conditions.

There was a storm raging at the surface. The weather was so bad that more 
than a dozen rescue vessels had their anchors torn away (only the missile 
cruiser Peter the Great and the anti-submarine ship Admiral 
Chubachenko were able to withstand the rough seas).

When the Russian Navy's own rescue craft were unable to effect an entry due 
to damaged hatches and the 60 degree list of the stricken vessel, the 
Russian authorities readily agreed to the use of a specially-designed 
British submersible.

Very few submarine rescue vessels are designed to function on a vessel 
listing as badly as the Kursk (in fact, one of the early stories 
said that the only submersible in the world designed to effect 
rescue from subs listing at 60 degrees was Australian but that its 
help had not been offered  this story also quickly disappeared from the 
media).

The Kursk was built only six years ago and is one of 12 Oscar class 
nuclear subs. The huge subs (154 metres, 18,300 tons) are Russia's top line 
defence against the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier-led strike forces of 
you know who.

The Kursk was taking part in naval exercises when the accident 
happened. Such exercises are regularly shadowed by British and US warships 
including nuclear subs.

Reports that the Kursk had collided with a "foreign submarine" were 
among the earliest made on the disaster.

Later, the Norwegian divers were reported to have found a length of railing 
off a British sub, and on August 22 the Russian Defence Minister said that 
only a massive collision with another sub could have caused the explosion 
on the Kursk.

"Other versions were considered [by Russian experts]", he announced, "but 
at this time we are certain that we can rule everything else out."

So why did the Western media display such a Cold War attitude towards neo-
capitalist Russia? Aren't Russia and the US supposedly on the same side 
now?

Well, actually, no they're not. The US has no desire to see an economically 
successful, powerful nuclear armed capitalist state on the territory of 
Russia, a competitor for markets, resources and influence.

The US wants Russia reduced to the status of a third world country, 
powerless to prevent the pillage of its own or other countries' resources. 
It does not like the way President Putin's party shared all the 
parliamentary committees in the Duma with the Communists and not the right-
wing parties.

It doesn't like the way Putin insisted on visiting the Soviet War Memorial 
during his visit to Berlin (ignoring his hosts' refusal to accompany him 
and climbing up to the memorial alone). And it particularly dislikes the 
way Russia and China have strengthened their ties since Putin was elected.

Russia is not going to return to socialism tomorrow (more's the pity) but 
the US Government can still recognise that an independent Russia is a 
threat to its "new world order". The Cold War is alive and well.

Back to index page