The lessons Mr Putin can learn from the tragedy in the Barents Sea

Share

In most respects, the news could hardly be worse. Moscow confirmed yesterday that all 118 men on board the submarine
Kursk are now assumed dead. The outcome is as grim as could have been imagined.

In most respects, the news could hardly be worse. Moscow confirmed yesterday that all 118 men on board the submarine Kursk are now assumed dead. The outcome is as grim as could have been imagined.

The human tragedy has been compounded by political obstinacy. The abject failure of the Russian government to address the real issues was a conspicuous reminder of how little the government mindset has moved in recent years.

At every turn, too little information was given, too late. The accident itself was not reported until a full 48 hours after it took place on 12 August. Initially, the authorities even lied about the date. There was an absurdity, too, in the refusal of the Kremlin to accept help when it was first offered by Britain and by neighbouring Norway.

A key part of the problem has been the refusal by Russia to allow itself to lose face. Dean Acheson famously said of Britain in the 1960s that it had lost an empire and not yet found a role. That is doubly true of Russia today, which seethes with resentment against the rest of the world; politicians and voters alike are only to happy to believe that rapacious foreigners are responsible for all of the country's woes.

A change in this mentality - or even the beginnings of a change - might, with luck, be one positive knock-on effect of the Kursk catastrophe. Certainly, the precedents are there. The refusal of the Kremlin to tell even quarter-truths after the disastrous explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 was a defining historic moment. It kickstarted the whole process of glasnost - greater openness in the media - which came to play a key role in ending communism and the Soviet Union itself.

The silence and official evasions about the Kursk may prove equally important in the years to come. Certainly, the Kremlin is shaken by the popular anger at its lack of public honesty in the past 10 days. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will never again believe he can hide away in the Crimea like some latter-day Brezhnev, waiting for the storm to blow over.

Crucially, too, millions of Russians know that Western countries offered help, and were rebuffed by the Kremlin, who, shockingly but unsurprisingly, cared more about national pride than human lives. Despite what some in Moscow have suggested in recent days, the moral is emphatically not that the West should write off a few billion dollars of Russian debt, to free up money for the Kremlin to modernise its navy. Rather, it is that Russia should be more open and trusting. If the West is treated as a true partner, not as a collection of hostile money-grabbers, ordinary Russians will undoubtedly stand to gain.

If the Kremlin had been less mistrustful in the past week, some Kursk submariners might still be alive today. That is a lesson that Russian voters will not quickly forget. The West can help - but only if Mr Putin and his colleagues in Moscow are humble enough to accept such help. That applies to Russia's basket-case economy as much as it does to disasters at sea.

Russians may blame the West with monotonous regularity for the poverty that still engulfs their country. But international co-operation to improve Russia's circumstances is only possible if Russia itself acknowledges that the West is no longer the enemy. We have moved on, into a new century; Mr Putin, too, must learn to move on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there