Rescue of Russian sub reflects a new attitude
It was inevitable that last week's emergency involving a Russian mini-submarine snagged on fishing nets on the floor of the Pacific Ocean would bring comparisons with the sinking of the Russian Kursk nuclear submarine in August 2000. Then, all 118 crew members died. Today, the seven members of the AS-28 mini-sub are alive and well.
The difference? The willingness of the government of President Vladimir Putin and the insular military hierarchy to immediately seek help from the outside world. There was none of the secrecy, lies and refusal to seek international assistance that turned the Kursk into an underwater coffin five years ago.
And, significantly, there was none of the "We can handle this crisis ourselves" chest-pounding by the Russian military, which sealed the fate of the 118 crew. Their deaths will forever be on the hands of the government.
On the other hand, the AS-28 incident does represent a change in attitude, which in and of itself is encouraging. It means that the Cold War mentality, in which the truth, more often than not, was a victim in that long-closed society, is now being replaced by an openness that is not only good for the Russian people, but for the international community.
It serves no useful purpose to have a former world superpower on the outside looking in.
Last Thursday, the 44-foot mini-submarine became stranded in 600 feet of water off the Kamchatka coast. Russian ships first tried to tow the sub to shallower water so divers could reach it, but they were able to move it only about 60 to 100 yards in the Beryozovaya Bay.
The Russians sent out an urgent call for help, and the British Royal Navy responded with the remote-controlled Super Scorpio. The British rescue crew, assisted by three American divers and a doctor, spent six hours maneuvering the Super Scorpio into place so it could cut away the fishing net cables that had snarled the Russian vessel and its propeller. The AS-28 had also come in contact with an underwater antenna assembly that is part of a coastal monitoring system,
When the seven crew members emerged from the craft after enduring darkness and frigid temperatures for three days, they had dazed looks and bloodshot eyes. Oxygen supplies in the vehicle had been dwindling.
But it was the tears and expressions of relief from relatives and friends that told the story of the Russian people expecting the worst -- a repeat of the Kursk sinking.
While President Putin and the military remain tight-lipped about what the mini-sub was doing in that part of the Pacific, they cannot ignore a question being asked today: Why does Russia need outside help in conducing rescue missions at sea?
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov promised Monday that the navy's rescue capabilities would be improved. But the fact of the matter is that five years have passed since the Kursk disaster and only the efforts of the British Navy averted another disaster for the Russians.