Russia mourns Kursk
Murmansk - Flags were lowered and
mourning services were held across Russia on Wednesday to mourn
the 118 sailors who died in the submarine Kursk.
President Vladimir Putin, who declared it a day of
mourning, returned to Moscow after facing the wrath of sailors'
families at a marathon overnight meeting in the northern naval
base of Vidyayevo, where the Kursk began its final mission.
Criticised for what many saw as a casual approach to the
disaster and a failure to prod generals into action during the
week of uncertainty over whether the trapped submarine crew
were still alive, Putin struggled at times to make himself
"When will we get them back, dead or alive? Answer as the
president," shouted a woman in the crowd, referring to the
bodies of the sailors, in clips on state-owned RTR television.
"I will answer (as soon) as I know it myself," said Putin, dressed in
black and looking sombre. The rest of his remarks were lost due
to the noise of the crowd and the bad quality of the tape.
Russian media allowed into Vidyayevo said the six-hour
meeting -- an unprecedented gathering of ordinary Russians with
their president in a crowded room -- ended long after midnight.
On Wednesday, church services were held, some television
stations changed their schedules to air classical music or war
films, and a minute's silence was observed on some chat shows
discussing the Kursk.
Russia's most popular website, anekdot.ru, where jokes are
usually posted, shut for the day and presented a black screen.
Promises to support relatives
The government has promised to look after the relatives and
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko was quoted by
Interfax news agency as saying families would get average
compensation worth $7 000, amounting to more than 10 years'
Matviyenko, heading a special government commission, said
military insurance would pay out a total of 23 million roubles
($830 000). The sum includes 120 average monthly wages for each
man plus a one-off payment equal to 25 monthly wages.
Some of the families may sue Putin, the government and
defence ministry for "moral damage" brought about by the
disaster, Veronika Marchenko of the Mothers' Right fund was
quoted as saying by Interfax.
Putin had been expected to fly to the area of the Barents
Sea where the Kursk sank on August 12, after still-unexplained
blasts, to lay a wreath on the sea to honour the dead.
But ORT television showed wives of dead sailors late on
Tuesday urging Putin not to do this.
They said such events should be postponed until the bodies
were recovered, perhaps fearing any ceremony could suggest
officials had given up hope even of recovering the bodies.
Putin apparently agreed and mourning ceremonies at
Vidyayevo, including a planned church service, were cancelled.
"It is impossible to believe it is all over," Interfax
quoted Putin as telling the crowd of up to 600 relatives and
local residents. "The grief is immeasurable, no words can
console. My heart is aching but yours much more so."
Some Russian newspapers continued to criticise the way
officials had handled the crisis, the focus shifting from Putin
to the military and government. "The military are obsessed with
one desire -- to shift the responsibility from their own
shoulders," Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily newspaper said.
On Tuesday, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Alexiy II
urged people not to apportion blame without good reasons and
said he was impressed with Putin's sentiments during the
Ecologists have expressed fears that the Kursk's reactors
present a threat to the environment but Norwegian experts said
they had found no evidence of radiation leaks.
The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority said it had
tested water from inside and outside the vessel and also
checked background radiation at stations in Norway, Sweden and
But Rod Macrae, international communications director of
Greenpeace, told Reuters television there was a ton and a
half of highly enriched uranium in each of the reactors.
"That being the case, the potential for the melting of the
core of these will increase," he said.
Russia has said its main concern is to recover the bodies,
but its navy lacks deep-sea diving equipment.
The Norwegian firm whose divers opened the Kursk's hatch on
Monday, only to find it flooded, has agreed to study a salvage
operation or the recovery of the bodies, both fraught with
The Kursk's designers said they were working on ways to
lift the 17 000 ton vessel -- lying 108m down
and much heavier flooded -- and move it to shallower waters.
Experts said such a complex operation could take months.