that the Russian submarine Kursk sank, killing 118. One of the side effects of doing military history is thinking about some very unpleasant things, and for me one of the worst is the plight of those men who survived the initial explosion. How long they survived is disputed (and the answer has important political implications), but it was at least long enough to leave notes behind.
Ten years ago was the very beginning of Putin’s regime, and the heady days of Putinmania in Russia. But what’s striking in hindsight is just how much continuity there is between the tragedy of the Kursk and what’s happening in Putin and Medvedev’s Russia today. Efforts to obfuscate, emphasis on image over real action, bureaucratic inertia, half-hearted and slapdash concern for human life, deep-seated mistrust of the outside world–all of those were clear in 2000. The difference is that the Russian public seems much angrier about them 10 years on.
Let me be clear–I’m not saying that prompt action and cooperation with foreign governments would have saved the sailors on the Kursk. They did have access to an escape hatch, and the submarine was only 100 meters deep. On the other hand, in World War II, sailors trapped in the Arizona at Pearl Harbor–essentially at the surface and in the middle of a US naval base, couldn’t be rescued. My point is that Putin’s government didn’t try.
Ubiquitous Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer reports for the Jamestown Foundation (hat tip: Johnson’s Russia List) that wildfires near Kolomna may have devastated Russia’s naval aviation by destroying vital logistic and technical resources. I’m familiar with the concept of naval bases far from open water, given that I grew up not far from Crane Naval Weapons Station. Nonetheless, the thought of non-shipboard fires affecting naval operations is a little disconcerting:
An Internet news site, lifenews.ru, first reported that on July 29, flames tore through a secret naval airbase in Kolomna, 100 kilometers (km) south-east of Moscow, destroying up to 200 aircraft worth 20 billion rubles ($600 million). Initially, the defense ministry tried to cover up the story by first declaring it to be erroneous, and then admitting that it was not an “airbase,” but logistic base office buildings, warehouses with unneeded equipment and vehicles were destroyed without any loss of life (ITAR TASS, August 3). It was later reported that the base in question Central Air and Technical naval base (also known as base 2512) has been used for 60 years to supply the entire naval aviation force with avionics, armaments, jet engines and other essential equipment (Interfax, August 3).
Medvedev did not elaborate about the equipment lost at base 2512, but implied “the consequences were heavy,” and that it was a result of “criminal negligence.” Medvedev officially reprimanded the Commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, and his First Deputy and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Alexander Tatarinov. Medvedev fired the Russian navy’s Chief of Logistics, Rear Admiral Sergei Sergeyev, and the Chief of Naval aviation, Major-General Nikolai Kuklev. Medvedev ousted three colonels: the commandant of 2512 base and two of Kuklev’s deputies. Under orders from Medvedev, Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, ousted five officers that served at base 2512 (Kommersant, August 5). Medvedev declared that further dismissals were possible later, after the entire crisis is finally defused (www.news.kremlin.ru, August 4).
The severity of the punishment handed out by Medvedev for a fire at a supply base that did not involve any human casualties surely reflects his overall anger, but also would indicate a large quantity of essential equipment was lost. The replacement of supplies lost at base 2512 could require billions of rubles, years of effort and, in some cases, may be simply impossible as the crisis in Russia’s defense industry has made the production of some essential components virtually impossible. Elements of Russian naval aviation could be grounded for a long time and maybe indefinitely, including the Su-33 jet fighters on Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov. The Su-33 is no longer produced and reportedly at least four new Su-33 jet engines were destroyed at base 2512 (Vedomosti, August 5). The 2512 base contained 65,000 tons of equipment, which might have been entirely destroyed. An airborne forces supply base (3370) was damaged by fire near the 2512 base, but its losses seem less significant (Kommersant, August 4).
Soviet naval buffs may have seen this before, but it was new to me when a dear friend emailed me the link. These are photographs from a group of tourists that went inside a Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine. I originally saw the photographs here, but it looks like the original is here.
Neither one has a precise indication of location, except for the photograph of the sign reading Nerpich’ya, which is a base at Zapadnaia Litsa in Murmansk oblast in the Russian far north. A little satellite browsing suggests to that the location is here–note the little green-roofed structure you can see at the end of the pier in an early shot and in the satellite image.
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Since I’m not a naval or submarine buff, I can’t say much about lots of the internal systems shown. What jumps out at me is the typical Soviet construction–lots of very heavy duty equipment, and lots of rust.
Scrolling down to the end reveals a slice of life and the creature comforts, so to speak, enjoyed by Soviet / Russian submariners. The exercise room, pool, video game, and most unspeakably the toilet (unitaz in Russian, with detailed instructions) give a nice picture of an existence most of us don’t get to experience. The signs are priceless; they promise horrible punishment for those who are careless or sloppy in their toilet use or manners. In particular, there’s a request to close the door in courtesy to those who live in the compartment. In fairness, American submarines aren’t especially comfortable either–the premium on space in a submarine is going to make waste disposal an unpleasant experience regardless.