Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 3-2000, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

The Kursk has Sunken
How to Reap Political Benefits from a Submarine's Sinking


The Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk sank during a maneuver in the Barents Sea. Only a few hours afterwards, actually before, the event became a case for the West and its free media: "Norwegian seismologists registered two explosions in short intervals, a smaller and a bigger one;" "American and British submarines were near the maneuver;" "NATO knows the whereabouts of the Russian submarine fleet at any moment."[1] We scored first, of course, by reporting the disaster before the Russians did. Of course, we had to help as a natural matter of humanity: the Russians couldn't cope by themselves. A British submarine rescue vessel got into waiting position. "GET THEM OUT," a tabloid demanded as both advocate of the victims and in the name of the world's public. The Free World was with the Russians, and the disaster worth a special announcement every day. But, was it really a "disaster?" The not-quite clandestine pleasure which could be noticed in the press coverage hinted otherwise: the Russian soldiers' distress was taken as a welcome opportunity to pillory the state whose orders they had been carrying out. "If the correct lessons are eventually learned, the submariners will not have died for nothing." (The Economist, London, August 26, 2000) The thoughtful faces on CNN and other news channels bore witness to the ideological triumph they were winning from the "drama in the North Sea" in the spirit of Western responsibility: the submarine accident as an opportunity to reconstruct a concept of the enemy! Just as if the West had been waiting for it-for a whole decade and especially since Vladimir Putin's ascendance to the presidency-the sub's sinking and particularly the new president's reluctance to call NATO to the rescue triggered off a rabble-rousing propaganda not heard since the best of Soviet times.


Although what caused the accident is still unknown-supposedly torpedo explosions on board, collision with a NATO submarine or a Russian one, "friendly fire," or a German mine from World War II-we have known all along that Russia is the real cause of the disaster. The power of judgment Western analysts are capable of was pitiless in this case: a chain of particular occurrences, effects from outside, inherited burdens and other possibilities were ruled out, were nothing but the normal excuses, attempts at covering up, or paranoia resurgent from the Cold War. For disasters Russians are involved in, the system is to blame. Similar conclusions would have been totally unthinkable when the Concorde went down, least of all demands to take the national airline managers as well as the plane out of operation. In the Kursk's case both the situation in Russia and its supreme commander had to take responsibility.


Just imagine the equipment the Russians are fooling around with! "The sub was taking a leading part in Russia's biggest show of naval force for five years. … All these moves were supposed to give substance to Mr Putin's recent pledge that Russia would soon return to the high seas as an ocean-going naval power, capable of defending trade routes or busting embargoes" (The Economist, August 19, 2000) And then the sub didn't even get further than a short distance outside Murmansk. The naval experts of all the Western TV stations could have told the Russians before: "The Russian high sea fleet is in an appalling state, ailing, rusty, without any money for repairs." As much as decaying warships on dry docks stood for the pleasingly well-developed depravity of Russian state power, so also must the present sight lead one to conclude the political vileness of those in charge of it. "Russia can hardly afford to maintain its submarines, let alone build new ones" (The Economist, August 19, 2000). "One consequence of the Kursk affair should be a fresh look at the cuts and reforms needed in Russia's over-sized armed forces" (The Economist, August 26, 2000). The Russians, however, in no way draw from the partial decay of their military substance the conclusion that they should write themselves off as a superpower. On the contrary: they are cheeky enough to have pretended that they still had secrets worth keeping, would have to fear espionage from Western helpers and to insist on the very unusual position of a sovereign-which we can only comprehend with difficulty. This must derive from their "national pride" of a sort quite unknown among us. "It looked as though, in effect, some of the Arctic fleet's most senior officers, along with their men, were sacrificed to a cold Soviet-style concept of secrecy and pride" (The Economist, August 19, 2000). This doggedness of the Russians is all the more absurd, as the Western military has been well-informed about the Kursk: "with its double-layered hull, this class of submarine, known as the Oskar-2, was designed to withstand torpedo attacks" (The Economist, August 19, 2000). Their reluctance to accept Western assistance and the denouncement of all friendly offers as an international showcase of Russian weakness must stem from the moral paranoia of a government which doesn't know when it is time to accept help and abdicate.


In particular the desire to inflict a defeat on the Russians' new leader made the reporters rise again to their old top form. All the propaganda they had had ready against the Soviet Union served them well against the post-communist and post-Yeltsin state, some new ideas included. Catch-phrases like "Putin's seas of troubles" (The Economist, August 26, 2000) were easily coined by the Western good-government watchdogs who set to work for the president's ruin, unmasking him within days: "deceitful, arrogant, callous, minor bureaucrat, coward, liar, powerless, unable to take decisions, showman, flailing about hopelessly, vacationer, heartless, despiser of mankind, bad judo-fighter, Ras-Putin, Stalin II, Cold Warrior, old spy, threat to world peace. …"

The logic of this presumably incomplete character study, which, all told, results in a wanted poster, follows the intention of the prosecution. Putin is firstly compared with his own intentions and the image the leader has presented to his people, and secondly with our principles of good governance and ideals of political credibility, and is then blamed for not living up to either of them, i.e., for being completely wrong. It is remembered that Putin, who has been irritating the West by his fuss about calling the nation to order, wants to organize the wrong state, and, all of a sudden, the man is nothing but a weakling and a Soviet recidivist: either too weak or too strong.

All the same, he wants to be a leader? He is incompetent! What a disgrace for the Putin, the "man of action." That's just a facade. No better than "Yeltsin who was often ill and not responsible for his actions." In no way will the West leave out the criticism that Putin isn't the "strong man" he pretends to be. Unable to lead Russia, and, not even our man in Moscow. The derision is no sooner enjoyed than the West is gripped by the profound insight that Putin is ruling Russia and willing to stop its decline: a clear misuse of our calculating respect for the new president's capabilities.

Is he so nasty as to want to lead Russia again into the position of an international superpower? The loss of a "super-modern high-tech boat" is translated into the spiteful exposure of what we explicitly dislike in Putin: his will to restore Russian power.


The corresponding charges are automatically concluded. We hear about the Russians' "boundless over-estimation of their abilities," who dared try to get their boys out themselves. We shudder in the face of a chief in the Kremlin who just didn't want to raise the status of the "submarine disaster" to that of an international affair. "While the hitherto popular president Putin remained on his holiday" (The Economist, August 26, 2000) instead of booking a flight as a catastrophe-tourist and giving first-hand thanks to the armed elite of a nation for their selflessly heroic deaths, as any Western head of government would have done in their hour of responsibility. We know, of course, the cynical respect due to people who serve their government as soldiers, and get excited in front of the TV over the "cynicism" and "amateurism" by which a weak and inhuman Russia "derides" its own people and "sacrifices" them for its own ends. We can't put up with authorities doing a sloppy job, who are unable to tell whether they need 116 or 118 coffins. We feel with the relatives being incited by agitators holding Western microphones to more courage and to stand up against their "elected dictator." We are given a crash course on escape hatches and are trained as submarine survival specialists. We learn that the human right to be informed of any damage incurred is trampled all over by the Russians, which is why neither their weather nor radiation reports are at all trustworthy. A German reporting live from Murmansk hit the nail on the head: "The information policy of the Soviet — sorry the Russian government — but the information policy is of a Soviet sort — is nothing but a catastrophe." Basically: the real catastrophe.


That's the way the Russians are! The racism of the sympathizing public reports is not only simply stupid and base; there's a method to it. Obviously, the treasury of anticommunist public opinion has survived the change of system in Russia and is not only a reminder of the good old reflexes still being intact: the background mind-set of the campaign against the "perpetual Soviet mentality in the Russian soul" is absolutely the actual enmity of the West against Russian power. The presumptuousness of Russia, not only to have already maintained its position for a decade but to attempt a national renewal through its new president Putin, has created the desire over here for a modern remake of the tried-and-true American slogan of a "bang or a whimper." The crew are dead; the concept of the enemy is alive.


[1] All quotations not otherwise attributed are taken from CNN and other international news sources.

© GegenStandpunkt 2000