Russia held a day of stage-managed official events yesterday to commemorate the loss of the Kursk, the giant atomic submarine that sank mysteriously during Arctic war games a year ago, killing all 118 crew members on board.
About 300 relatives of the drowned crew members gathered at the Kursk's home port of Vidyayevo on the Barents Sea for a solemn and at times tearful memorial service.
A stone was laid at the site of a future monument to the Kursk, a plaque unveiled at the submarine's former berth and flowers tossed into the sea as the names of the ship's perished crew were read over a loudspeaker. Goose-stepping soldiers laid wreaths at a monument for sailors who jave died at sea.
Foreign journalists were kept away from the closed city of Vidyayevo because it is a secret naval base. But Russian state television broadcast the meeting live and also covered memorials in other naval centres, including Vladivostok, St Petersburg and Sevastopol.
Russian news agencies reported that a school in the central Russian city of Volgograd had decided to name itself after the ill-fated ship's captain, Gennady Lyachin. And the Deputy Prime Minister, Alexei Kudrin, chose yesterday to announce that Russia's military budget would be increased by 22 per cent next year.
But nagging questions remain about the cause of the accident, as well as the Kremlin's determination to raise the stricken submarine in an expensive operation due to be completed this summer.
President Vladimir Putin, who was criticised for his inaction during the first crucial week of last August's Kursk crisis, was not at the Vidyayevo service. But on Friday he met Captain Lyachin's widow in the Kremlin and bestowed on her husband a posthumous Hero of Russia medal, the country's highest honour.
Mr Putin has admitted that his behaviour last year, when the Kursk went down, was a mistake. He remained on vacation at an exclusive Black Sea resort and appeared on television four days after the disaster wearing a golf shirt and looking relaxed.
Later, he held a stormy meeting with relatives and pledged to recover the remains of all 118 crew members, "regardless of the cost".
Critics say this year's hastily prepared £49m operation to lift the Kursk is publicity overkill by an anxious Kremlin scrambling to repair its image. More than 1,000 journalists have been invited to view the raising, now timed for next month, and the Kremlin is financing an English-language internet channel (www.kursk 141.org) with exhaustive coverage and 3D computer models of the operation.
An international team of divers began positioning a robot chainsaw yesterday, It will take several days to cut away the submarine's heavily damaged forward section where the fatal explosions happened.
The Kursk's aft sections will be attached to 26 cables, pulled to the surface by a lifting barge and hauled to a naval dockyard near Murmansk.
The naval commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov told relatives of the disaster in Vidyayevo yesterday that the submarine was being recovered to lay to rest all doubts about what caused the accident. He said: "For the naval command, in investigating the cause of the sinking of the Kursk, there is nothing more important than achieving the maximum level of clarity."
An official Kremlin commission is still considering three theories over what caused the two blasts that ripped through the Kursk as the five-storey-high craft was manoeuvring at a depth of 100 metres. These include collision with a foreign submarine, a torpedo test that went awry or striking a Nazi magnetic mine from the Second World War.
Recent opinion polls show that the majority of Russians believe the authorities are covering up the truth on the causes of the disaster.Reuse content