Index

SLUG: 5-47361 Russia / Kursk Letter DATE: NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=11/10/00

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT (REISSUING)

TITLE=RUSSIA / KURSK LETTER

NUMBER=5-47361

BYLINE=EVE CONANT

DATELINE=ST. PETERSBURG

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

/// EDS: ADDS NOTE: FIRST ENGLISH USE RESERVED FOR DATELINE ///

INTRO: The mission to recover the remains of crewmen who died aboard the sunken nuclear submarine "Kursk" has uncovered a log book and two notes written by Russian submariners - notes that have helped revive public criticism over the military's slow response to the August 12th disaster. Correspondent Eve Conant in St. Petersburg spoke with parents of the victims and with other Russians about the notes, and how they have affected their views of the Kremlin and its pledge to carry out an honest investigation into the national tragedy.

TEXT: In their small apartment in St. Petersburg, Roman and Irina Kolesnikov pore over photographs of their 27-year-old son Dmitry - one of the 12 sailors whose bodies were recovered from the Kursk submarine before the salvage operation was called off.

Roman, who also served in the country's navy, pulls out a piece of paper on which he copied the last words his son wrote before his death.

/// ACT ROMAN KOLESNIKOV IN RUSSIAN AND FADE TO TRANSLATION ///

"It is too dark to write here, but I will try to do it blindly. It looks like there is no chance - ten to twenty percent. Here is list of personnel who are in the ninth section and trying to get out. Hello to everyone. Do not despair."

/// END ACT ///

His son's note disproved the Russian government's claim that all sailors died immediately in the Kursk tragedy. The idea that the crewmen could not have been saved deflected criticism from the Kremlin that it had acted too slowly and ineffectively to save the 118-men from being buried alive on the bottom of the Barents Sea.

But Roman Kolesnikov says that although his son's note proves the officials were wrong, he has become a firm supporter of President Vladimir Putin, the man he believes is spearheading an honest and open investigation into the Kursk tragedy.

/// OPT /// ///SECOND ACT ROMAN KOLESNIKOV IN RUSSIAN AND FADE TO TRANSLATION ///

"In Russia, everything depends on what our president says. And I can say that the promises he made are being fulfilled flawlessly from a legal point of view. I think this investigation will be brought to fruition." /// END ACT /// /// END OPT///

The highly publicized, expensive salvage mission - as well as the generous state support for the families of the Kursk victims - is unprecedented.

Boris Koluada, survivor of the Soviet Komsomolets nuclear submarine which sank in 1989, says the government's response then was fundamentally different from what Russians are witnessing now.

/// ACT KOLUADA IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER ///

He says, "There was no help for the relatives like we are seeing now. Those of us who lived through the sinking of the Komsomolets were told 'you should be thankful that you survived, you cannot ask for anything more.'"

Dmitry Kolesnikov's mother, Irina, sees the release of her son's note and the government's apparent concern for her family as an effort to do right, to make up for callous behavior in the past.

/// IRINA KOLESNIKOVA IN RUSSIAN AND FADE UNDER TO TRANSLATION ///

"Before, the navy would even bury people in secret. The widows never knew what happened or how. Ten years later they might receive some certificate. But in the case of the Kursk, everything has been done with great openness."

/// END ACT ///

But others are not so sure "openness" is the right way to describe the government's reaction, and say it is too early to herald a new era of official honesty. Alexander Golts, military analyst for Itogi, a weekly news magazine, believes Dmitry Kolesnikov's note, which contradicted earlier statements by the Northern Fleet and the Kremlin, was only released because there was no way to stop its publication.

/// ACT GOLTS ///

There are a few theories. Of course, we can unfortunately only speculate. It looks like it [the release of the letter] happened because of a few circumstances. First the weather was so bad that they could not immediately take bodies from the Norwegian ship Regalia to the coast, to Severodvinsk. So the exam was done on board. Second, there are two people aboard the Regalia, they are a man from the General Military Prosecutor's Office, and a medical expert. Both of them don't have to report directly to the Fleet command. That's why. If they tried to hide the note this could come to the surface immediately, because it had happened on a foreign ship and there could theoretically have been some witnesses.

/// END ACT ///

/// OPT /// But now there is more than just Dmitry Kolesnikov's note. Russia's deputy prime minister, Ilya Klebanovin, who is in charge of the commission investigating the cause of the sinking of the Kursk, says a second note was recovered from a dead crewman which reads: "We are getting weaker from the effects of carbon monoxide following the fire. Pressure is rising. If we get out, we won't stand the compression." The sailor who wrote the note said he doubted the men would survive for more than 24 hours - information which supports the government in the sense that it proves rescue teams would not have had enough time to save any of the 23 sailors slowly suffocating in the Kursk's ninth compartment. /// END OPT ///

In whatever way information will be revealed, the fact that at least some of the men survived for at least a few hours brought the tragedy into people's hearts once again. While it was not the first time Russian sailors died at sea, it was the first time that such a disaster was so publicized, and the government's response so critically monitored, both worldwide and at home.

/// OPT TO END /// The Saint Petersburg Serafimovskoye Cemetery is packed with gravestones commemorating sailors who died in service, including victims of the Komsomolets, and now Dmitry Kolesnikov of the Kursk. Citizens like 65-year-old Yuri Mikhailovich stop at his grave to pay their respects. He says he never knew Kolesnikov, but looks at his fresh grave as if one of his own children had died.

/// ACT MIKHAILOVICH IN RUSSIAN IN FULL AND FADE UNDER ///

He says, "Our psychology has changed over the past few years, but not for the better. We are reaping what we sowed before, that's what this is all about." (Signed)

NEB/EC/KL/TDW