Russian U-turn over nuclear ship danger

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The Independent Online

The head of the Russian navy said yesterday that one of the world's most powerful nuclear warships "may blow up any minute", but hours later he denied making the comment.

The head of the Russian navy said yesterday that one of the world's most powerful nuclear warships "may blow up any minute", but hours later he denied making the comment.

Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov qualified his earlier statement, saying that he meant only that the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), the pride of the Northern Fleet, was being poorly maintained.

Russian military analysts said the incident may have had less to do with an imminent danger than with rivalries among the top brass of a navy struggling to stay afloat on a budget that has been dramatically cut since its Cold War heyday.

Two major news agencies, Itar-Tass and Interfax, quoted Admiral Kuroyedov as saying he had ordered the nuclear-powered cruiser back to port and warned "it may blow up any minute". He added that "it's especially dangerous because it has a nuclear reactor."

But some hours later, the admiral said he was misquoted and the agencies' reports were "not true in any way".

"The ship's nuclear safety system is fully tested and meets all vital requirements," he said in his later remarks. "However, the state of the living quarters and the general state of the ship is unsatisfactory and fails to meet requirements set down by regulations."

The admiral added that he had given the crew two weeks to fix the problems.

The newspaper Kommersant said that Admiral Kuroyedov has a personal conflict with the retired admiral Igor Kasatonov, uncle of the cruiser's commander, Rear-Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, who blamed him for the sinking of a decommissioned nuclear submarine in August.

It was not clear where the ship was yesterday but its home port is near Murmansk on Russia's Arctic coast.

The 19,000-ton Kirov-class vessel has 20 cruise missiles that can be equipped with nuclear warheads. Designed to challenge the US navy in the Cold War and originally named the Yuri Andropov after the former Soviet leader, the Peter the Great spent years in the dockyard after the Soviet Union collapsed before being finally commissioned, despite concerns over its cost, in 1998.

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