Russia says trapped sub did not need aid

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The Independent Online

In comments which appear aimed at saving face and staving off charges of negligence, Rear-Admiral Alexander Vitko and Captain Valery Lepetucha, one of the seven trapped sailors, played down the seriousness of the situation.

"The British Scorpio [the robot that cut the AS-28 mini-sub free from fishing nets last Sunday] simply reduced the amount of time the rescue operation took," said Admiral Vitko. The Russians would have got there in the end themselves, he added, as there was more time than people thought.

Admiral Vitko's claims come as military prosecutors continue a criminal investigation into the incident and as President Vladimir Putin agreed Russia would award the British rescue team with state medals.

Captain Lepetucha said the men could have held out longer. His six comrades have been reported as saying they had to restrict themselves to two or three gulps of water a day and that they were forced to turn off the lights to conserve energy. Rescue team members have also been quoted as saying there was as little as 10 hours' oxygen left.

But Captain Lepetucha said there were enough onboard rations and rusks to last four days, plenty of water, that there was no need to switch off the lights and that there was a further 36 hours of oxygen left.

The Russian media is sceptical about his claims. "It looks like the announcements are aimed at convincing public opinion that the navy high command acted correctly and that a tragedy could not have occurred," surmised the daily Kommersant.