President Vladimir Putin disciplined several high-ranking commanders

NSL Update 12-04-01

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 MOSCOW, Dec. 1 -- Hours after gingerly casting blame on Russia's navy for the deadly sinking of the Kursk submarine, President Vladimir Putin today disciplined several high-ranking
commanders.

Adm. Vyascheslav Popov was fired from his position as chief of staff of the Northern Fleet, as was Vice Adm. Mikhail Motsak. Their new jobs were not announced. Fourteen other officers "have been dismissed or received various disciplinary penalties," said top naval commander Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov.

The military chief of staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, told reporters the actions were not linked to the Kursk sinking. But just hours before, Putin observed that the Kursk investigation "enables us to draw a rather definite conclusion on the quality of preparations for, and organization of, military exercises and the organization of search-and-rescue operations."

The remarks are the closest Putin has come to placing full blame on Russian commanders for the Kursk's sinking. The nuclear-powered vessel sank Aug. 12, 2000, during an exercise off Russia's Barents Sea coast. All 118 people aboard died.  The disaster laid bare both the vulnerabilities of Russia's decaying naval force and the failings of its top leadership.

When the sub sank, naval and government officials waited more than a day to announce the disaster, gave erroneous times for the sinking and were tardy in dispatching rescue missions. They issued reports of live sailors on board and accounts of rescue efforts that never took place.

The sinking presented Putin with his first political crisis after about seven months in office. Under intense public criticism for staying at a Black Sea resort as the disaster unfolded, he pledged a full investigation and promised to raise the Kursk from the seabed. Most of the sub was recovered this fall in a Russian-Dutch salvage operation.

Today, Putin backed away from the allegation that the Kursk sank after colliding with a U.S. submarine. He said that all theories were still open and the investigation was continuing, but he added:  "It should be admitted that, despite a large amount of work done, no objective evidence proving this theory has been received."

U.S. officials said the Kursk sank when a torpedo exploded. A Russian defense journal said the Kursk was testing a volatile propulsion system that blew up, ignited other torpedoes and caused a cataclysmic explosion.