August 18, 2000 |
The "nightmare" plight of the Russian nuclear submarine, Kursk, and the uncertain fate of its crew touched a nerve in overseas newspapers, as much for its indictment of the Russian government's "poor" response as for the "human tragedy." Editorials from Europe, Asia and Canada roundly denounced Russian authorities for putting "pride before urgency" and reverting to Soviet-era "secrecy and lies," by initially failing to disclose the extent of the calamity and then refusing offers of international assistance until late in the game. Nowhere were the recriminations harsher than in Moscow's print media. Centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta spoke for many in accusing Russian leaders of being "still in the grip of the morally outdated Soviet ideology" that fails to make "human lives the primary concern." Among reformist papers, Kommersant averred that "someone must answer for the loss of human lives," while Vremya-MN charged that "our military refuses to see the obvious--it takes an international effort to cope with emergencies like this one." Izvestiya added, "The Russian elite's reflexes have not changed in the past 10 to 15 years. It has yet to adapt to this new world.... Its first reflex is to hide the truth. But it can't--this country and the world have changed." Judgments were also condemnatory elsewhere, echoing a Madrid daily's claim that "the Russian government acted belatedly, badly and begrudgingly, wielding all the habits of secrecy and autocracy of its predecessors." Additional highlights follow:
POLITICAL FALLOUT AGAINST PUTIN: Writers reserved especially strong censure for President Putin. Many claimed that in dealing with this "first major disaster" on his watch, "his ability to comfort and sustain, as well as to rule" has been found lacking. This could "come back to haunt him politically," warned one. Particularly irksome, declared a Moscow daily, was that "he has not interrupted his vacation...if only for an hour, to support the seamen in distress." Alluding to his seeming inability to grasp the "demands" of democratic leadership, Oslo's independent Dagbladet observed that "every other democratically elected head of state would have gotten as near the site [of the accident] as humanly possible."
LITMUS TEST FOR RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY: Despite the "old," "Soviet-style fortress mentality" at the top, several held that the "wave of criticism" heard among the Russian public and particularly in its media--which European papers called "virulent" in their criticism of "Putin's silence and inaction"--was proof that "democracy is working." Said London's centrist Independent, "At first, there was little reaction from the Russian public.... But then the gates of democracy opened, and the whirlwind of accountability swept into...Putin's holiday dacha." The dichotomy between "Russia new and old" was also cited in Moscow's reformist Segodnya, which suggested that while the Kremlin can no longer "hush up" such an accident and dismiss Western media reports as "lies," Kursk is evidence that human life "still costs nothing here."
STATE OF MILITARY, NUCLEAR SAFETY: A handful of writers, some recalling Chernobyl, contended that the accident "casts an alarming light on the state of Russian nuclear power" and should spur Moscow and the West to intensify efforts to improve nuclear safety in Russia. Others held that Kursk serves as a warning about "the dire state" of Russia's armed forces.
EDITOR: Katherine L. Starr
EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 61 reports from 17 countries August 15-18. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.
RUSSIA: "Russian Elite's Old Reflexes"
Reformist Izvestiya (8/18) front-paged this comment by Georgy Bovt: "The Russian elite's reflexes have not changed in the past 10 to 15 years. It has yet to adapt to this new world and it slips into its old ways whenever there is a danger to it, exactly as in the days of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Its first reflex is to hide the truth. But it can't--this country and the world have changed so. That makes their antics look even more monstrous."
"Russia New And Old"
Leonid Radzikhovsky asserted in reformist Segodnya (8/18): "The Kursk disaster shows that Russia is new. In the USSR, the accident would have been hushed up, and Western media reports would have been dubbed lies and psychological warfare. That is impossible now. On the other hand, the disaster shows that Russia has not changed. Human life still costs nothing here. At least it costs less than the lives of incompetent ministers, sham generals and Kremlin toadies. All of a sudden, Russia has a chance to open up to the world. Having the world, that very West, rescue Russian boys... Isn't it an emotional bombshell? Isn't meeting the British on the Kursk just as meaningful as the meeting on the Elbe? Help, brothers! This would make a great political slogan. Simple and brilliant. Not to our generals, though--who would then need them?"
"Time To Live Within Our Means"
Vadim Solovyov queried in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (8/18): "How good are our armed forces? We've been told that they are combat ready. I wouldn't be so sure after what happened in the Barents Sea. Why keep an enormous and costly fleet of nuclear submarines if we can't support them on combat missions as short as three days? Do we need them to feel like a great power?... We should live within our means. And that goes for the army, too. It's wrong to have illusions about defense. It is as bad as a crime. The crisis in our North Fleet in a small way reflects a crisis in our army reform.... Our president, the supreme commander, has not been at his best either. Three weeks ago he stopped his important work in Moscow to spend a day in Baltiisk, celebrating Navy Day. But he has not interrupted his vacation to visit Severomorsk, if only for an hour, and support the seamen in distress. Too bad, the American president, during their telephone conversation the other day, did not advise him to go there, as he himself would certainly have done."
Vladimir Yermolin said on page one of reformist Izvestiya (8/17): "Our nuclear subs don't sink but they 'lie on the ground.' What we are doing in Chechnya is not a war but a 'counterterrorist operation.' Our officials like euphemisms. Euphemisms have become their language and, even worse, their way of doing things. Our commander-in-chief is on vacation. He has worked hard and traveled a lot lately. Once he even visited a submarine. So he deserves rest. Our generals and admirals, supposedly the bravest of all, as the defenders of our motherland should be, are afraid to tell the truth about the fate of their subordinates aboard the stricken submarine. They are afraid to lose their jobs. They are afraid to ask the West for help, lest their military secrets and their own helplessness become known to the 'potential adversary.' Being rational, brave and honest is what is expected of a normal government. Lies and fears are the qualities of the Russian government. Our state has long since run aground, with people having no trust in its ability to protect them from mischief."
Reformist Vremya MN (8/17) remarked in a page-one piece by Yulia Petrovskaya and Aleksandr Shaburkin: "With the kind of mentality it has, our military refuses to see the obvious--it takes an international effort to cope with emergencies like this one."
"No One Risks Taking Responsibility"
Nikolai Gulko said on page one of reformist business-oriented Kommersant (8/17): "Experience shows that you can fight terrorists successfully, without naming the criminals. But you can't be a success in a rescue operation unless you rescue people. Someone must answer for the loss of human lives. This is exactly why state officials refuse to take responsibility for anything. And so does the president. Only yesterday did he inform U.S. President Bill Clinton about what was going on."
"U.S.' Sympathetic Response"
Yuri Garyaev in New York noted in a report for official parliamentary Parlamentskaya Gazeta (8/17): "The Americans, we must give it to them, responded sympathetically."
"U.S. Offers Aid"
Aleksandr Morozov reported in reformist, youth-oriented Moskovskii Komsomolets (8/17): "U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen sent a letter to Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, offering 'every assistance you need.' But no immediate reply followed. It is anybody's guess why our military pushed away the helping hand. To those who are slowly dying aboard the Kursk it does not matter who--the Russians, Americans or British--pulls them out of that inferno."
"President Silent. Why?"
Igor Chernyak wondered in reformist youth- oriented Komsomolskaya Pravda (8/17): "How come that in the past five days, Putin, who once spent a night aboard a submarine and knows what being underwater means, has not found time to address the families of the Kursk's seamen? Why does he think he can remain silent these days, with all of Russia keyed up, its heart going out to the people aboard the hapless sub?"
Official government Rossiyskaya Gazeta (8/16) front-paged its readers' comments: "It is not an accident. It is a disaster. Strangely, it did not happen before. The years of gloom and doom in this country must have taken a toll on the navy, as well. The Kursk is the result of army reform quietly choking the Navy. Just as a shortage of air causes irreversible consequences in a human body, a lack of funds kills the Navy. You can't live on the enthusiasm of the officers and men forever."
"Human Lives Primary Concern"
Alan Kasayev said on page one of centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (8/16): "The people aboard the incapacitated submarine must be the primary concern, but for some reason, they are still there, three days after the accident. Could it be that the leadership of the Navy, Army and country is trying to save the ship in the first place? Our leaders are still in the grip of the morally outdated Soviet ideology which said that servicemen must save their materiel even if they have to die. Defense Minister Sergeyev and Chief of the General Staff Kvashnin, in their dispute over army reform, use a lot of figures and references to geopolitics, but they never mention the 'human complement' of the army. After all, the principal goal of any army reform in today's world is to ease the workload of servicemen, to prevent the loss of human lives in the army, and to make national security, which is basically the security of people, the chief vector of national policy."
"We Should Accept Foreign Aid"
Igor Dvinsky argued in reformist Segodnya (8/16): "Clearly, asking for foreign aid to save the Kursk hurts the Kremlin's ego. Russia's status as a great naval power may suffer for that too. But it will suffer even more if the rescue operation fails."
"Why Not Ask The Americans?"
Reformist Izvestiya (8/16) front-paged a letter by a 16-year old reader: "It seems that things are getting worse every hour. From what I see on TV and read in newspapers, it is clear that nothing serious is being done to save the Russian seamen. If we can't get them out of there, why not ask the Americans for help? Who said that they will refuse it?"
BRITAIN: "Russia's Anger Shows That Democracy Is Working"
The centrist Independent editorialized (8/18): "Healthy democracies, unlike dictatorships, learn from their mistakes and are strengthened by them. That is the test for Russia today, as the submarine disaster in the Barents Sea approaches what seems increasingly likely to be a tragic ending.... At first, there was little reaction from the Russian public: Russian pride demanded solidarity, the tradition of totalitarianism stifled doubt. But then the gates of democracy opened, and the whirlwind of accountability swept into President Putin's holiday dacha. Yesterday's Russian press was virulent in its criticism of his silence and inaction. This is a form of politics that is familiar to us. Not only has Mr. Putin made a serious error of judgment in failing to ask for help immediately, but he has compounded it by appearing insouciant. No democratic politician can afford to remain on holiday in a crisis. Mr. Putin seemed to understand the demands of modern media presentation when he was elected. To be sure, his image-management was a little crude, winning a khaki election on the back of the second Chechen war, but he was recognizably a democratic politician cut from the same sort of material as Blair, Bush and Gore. That means he is now subject to the cruel blast of democracy.... Putin will pay a heavy price for his sins of omission in failing to respond quickly to this accident. But he will try to prevent such a disaster from happening again. It must be hoped that public accountability will force the fresh air of democracy into the closed spaces of the Russian military and the Russian government."
"Sub's Crew Are Victims Of Putin's Misplaced Pride"
The conservative tabloid Daily Express said in its lead editorial (8/18): "As Putin watches the crisis reach its nadir from his distant holiday home on the shores of the Black Sea, he must remember that his country is now a very different place from the oppressive and secretive one dominated by his communist predecessors. It is time the premier brought Russia in from the cold. Accepting assistance in this crisis at the outset would not have been a sign of weakness, it would have been the judgment of a compassionate leader and, more importantly, could have saved lives."
"Secrets And Lies That Shame Putin"
The leftwing tabloid Mirror held in its lead editorial (8/18): "This disaster has gripped the world. Yet, long after the Cold War ended, Moscow still clung to secrecy.... The real scandal is the effect that had on the families left clinging to the hope that their men would be brought back from the bottom of the sea. It is a disgusting and uncivilized way to behave and President Putin should be ashamed. But maybe nothing more could be expected when he apparently was prepared to sacrifice 118 men to national pride."
The conservative Daily Telegraph editorialized (8/17): "As prime minister, Vladimir Putin was keen to associate himself as closely as possible with the war in Chechnya.... He persuaded voters that the restoration of faith in the armed forces was synonymous with the recovery of great power status. Where does that promise now stand? The pride of the navy, the arm through which Mr. Putin primarily hoped to demonstrate Russia's global reach, lies stricken on the floor of the Barents Sea, and after several abortive rescue attempts, Moscow has turned to Britain and Norway for help.... Events of the past few days have pointed not to a nation renascent under a young and energetic ruler, but to familiar weaknesses of the past. Lies about the extent of the accident and a misplaced pride that has delayed, perhaps fatally, the request for foreign assistance, both have revealed Russia in the worst of lights.... The fate of the Kursk is a brutal reminder of how far Russia has declined since the end of the Cold War. It has yet to be seen whether Mr. Putin will draw the sensible conclusion and tailor military spending to what the country can afford."
"Putin Fails The Test Over Kursk"
The independent Financial Times asserted (8/17): "In the old days, the Soviet Union left its naval accidents to foreigners to reveal. Now the Russian authorities are giving enough information for their people and the outside world to share in some of the trauma of the crippled Kursk submarine and the fate of its 118 sailors.... But they are still not telling the full story. This has compounded the anguish of the Russian sailors' relatives and complicated the provision of outside help. Nor has Putin given the impression of pulling out all the stops in the rescue. Far from living up to the Western image of 'hands on' leadership that he has cultivated, he is sitting out the crisis thousands of mile away holidaying on the Black Sea.... However, the president is wrong if he thinks he has the luxury of exercizing power in remote Soviet style. If Russia is enough of a democracy to inform its people of big mishaps, its people will want to see their leaders taking resolute action."
The conservative tabloid Daily Mail had this lead editorial (8/17): "It is the submariner's worse nightmare. But this drama in the icy Barents Sea has an extra cruel twist--one that tells us something significant about Russia today. For the safety of the Kursk's crew has almost certainly been sacrificed to the obsession with national pride and secrecy that should have disappeared from the Kremlin with the break-up of the Soviet Union.... Instead of accepting prompt British and U.S. offers to join the rescue attempt, they [the Kremlin] decided this was a problem Russia should handle on its own, keeping curious NATO eyes away from the Kursk, and ensuring no loss of face for the Russian fleet. Alas, that is not how things have turned out."
"Mr. Putin Deserves Respect, But Friendship Takes Longer"
The centrist Independent had this op-ed commentary (8/16): "With every hour that passes, the chances of any of the Kursk submarine crew surviving its sinking are dwindling. The likely outcome will be a human tragedy and another blow to the fragile, edgy pride of military Russia. The fate of the nuclear-powered submarine--the flagship of the Northern Fleet--has strong symbolic significance for the Kremlin. Barring a miracle rescue, it will be the first major disaster President Putin has had to deal with since coming to power, and a test of his ability to comfort and sustain, as well as to rule. An untested politician and product of the foreign intelligence apparatus, Putin rose to power on the back of Boris Yeltsin's senescence and the war in Chechnya. He has not, so far, had to expend emotional or political capital on shoring up his authority."
"A Nuclear Sub Accident Waiting To Happen"
Edinburgh's independent Scotsman had this lead editorial (8/15): "If there is to be anything positive coming from the Kursk disaster, it has to be the need for Russia and the G-7 Western countries to intensify cooperation both in reducing the potential risks from the obsolete Soviet arsenal left over from the Cold War and in securing nuclear safety at sea. Russia has a land border with 18 other nations. It is essentially a land power with unresolved strategic defense interests around its perimeter, as last week's Moscow bomb underlined. Russia's sea dreams of the Cold War cost her precious resources and many brave men. The crew of the Kursk should be the last potential sacrifice to that folly."
FRANCE: "Kursk: A Worst Case Scenario"
Piotr Snolar held in right-of-center Le Figaro (8/18): "Have NATO officials questioned their Russian counterparts about the nuclear risks involved? The Russian Navy states that the Kursk did not carry nuclear warheads and that the nuclear reactors were shut when the accident happened. But these reassurances are not convincing, considering what happened during the Chernobyl tragedy."
"An Information Void"
Helene Despic-Popovic observed in left-of-center Liberation (8/18): "Just like they did for the Chernobyl tragedy, the Russians have sent a spokesman to the front lines. Igor Dygalo's rhetoric is weak. Every sentence he pronounces is immediately contradicted by the next. His tone is elliptical and his explanations are not credible."
Jacques Amalric judged in left-of-center Liberation (8/17): "Like the Soviet Union, Putin's Russia remains adept at secrecy and lies during a national tragedy.... Today, as in the past, Moscow's first reflex is to sacrifice human lives in the useless hope of saving face for the leaders of the moment. The tragedy of the Kursk illustrates the tenacious survival of this Soviet habit."
"The Specter Of Disaster"
Patrick de Saint-Exupery maintained in right-of-center Le Figaro (8/17): "In accepting the West's assistance yesterday, Russian officials threw to the winds a military rule inherited from the Soviet days and closely guarded by those who are still harboring feelings of nostalgia for the Cold War.... Caught in quarrels of a bygone century, Russian military officials are making Putin's position unbearable.... Heads will be rolling soon and Putin, who is vacationing on the Black Sea, will be meditating on this latest accumulation of errors while keeping his fingers crossed in the hopes of avoiding a full-fledged national disaster."
GERMANY: "Fatal Behavior"
Werner Adam noted in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (8/18): "Memories of a Soviet-style fortress mentality are revived when one tries to interpret the behavior of the political and military leadership in Moscow.... Only hours after the Russians admitted that the accident happened at least half a dozen Western states offered help without the Kremlin or the Defense Ministry reacting. The fact that the Russian Navy was forced to urge the president to accept the offer of foreign help and that he only agreed to accept it after talking to Bill Clinton will probably come back to haunt him politically."
"The Disaster Of The Old Thinking"
Manfred Quiring said in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (8/18): "The sailors are the victims of old reflexes from which Russia has not freed itself even nine years after the Soviet Union's disintegration. The prime concern focused first of all on the one-billion dollar vessel, on one's own prestige, then on the prestige of the state, and only then on the fate of the unfortunate crew. The admirals...are lying, hushing up facts, and continue to remain silent. This is nothing new for Russians, but in the era of unimpeded flow of information...such policies quickly run aground, and the Russians are increasingly angered at the arrogant and reluctant way with which the fleet commando reacts. Confidence in the military leadership--including its supreme commander, Putin--which shows the same presumptuousness in Chechnya, is severely damaged.... Moscow's attempt to upgrade its status in the world through military greatness has been shipwrecked."
"And Putin Is On Vacation"
Michael Backhaus argued in right-of-center tabloid B.Z. of Berlin (8/18): "Russia still has a long way to go before it can be considered a democracy according to the Western model.... In France, Great Britain and the United States, every government leader who had gone on vacation in view of such a disaster, would be swept out of office due to public outrage. But times have also changed in Russia. The czars and their Soviet successors simply did not have to take care of public concerns. In their majority, the Russians still want a strong man, a kind of czar, at the lead. But they want someone who takes care of the people and who is with them in times of misery. Putin's heartless silence and the serious shortcomings during the rescue mission could destroy his reputation as the savior of the Russian motherland."
Werner Adam commented in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (8/17): "Vladimir Putin, who constantly preaches patriotism and national greatness has now shown the world where the orientation to such terms can lead to. The Russian military had to tell its president that, without international assistance, it would be impossible to save the crew.... When the lives of so many people are involved, we could have expected at least the political leadership to ignore military apprehensions [about allowing outside intervention]. But in this tragic case, the situation was exactly the opposite. The picture of a man of quick and self-confident decisions has got its first blemishes."
Mathias Brueggmann filed the following editorial for business-oriented, right-of-center Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf (8/17): "There is still a long way to go for the 'Partnership for Peace' project and the NATO-Russian Council.... A crisis situation like this make this very clear. There is the growing suspicion that Moscow wanted to hush up the real dimension of the disaster. In addition, the Kremlin seems to be interested in preserving military secrets--maybe because nuclear warheads are on board--instead of using all available international assistance to save the crew. The question is whether Vladimir Putin backs the views of his generals and admirals. If he allows his military to embarrass him in the international arena, he must now take tough measures. Putin's zig-zagging in the affair can be explained only because the 'Kursk' disaster hits Russia's...sensitive points. The sunken submarine is hurting Russia's self-perception as...a major power, and the call for international assistance even intensifies this."
"An Alarming Look At State Of Russian Nuclear Power"
Centrist General-Anzeiger of Bonn noted (8/16): "The dramatic accident and the difficulties of the rescue mission cast an alarming light on the state of the Russian nuclear power. Once again, we realize the discrepancy between the slow implementation process of disarmament treaties and the secret continuation of competition for improved arms systems. [The accident] also emphasizes the extraordinary difficulties with which Russia is faced when it comes to implementing its disarmament commitments. Rotten ships and reactors: They are a ticking time bomb with disastrous consequences for the environment, but, nevertheless a taboo subject for Russia's military officials, who have turned into masters of self-deception when assessing the constitution of their armed forces, the pride of the nation."
"Mock Giant Russia"
Christoph von Marschall concluded in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (8/16): "For more than a year the play 'The Emperor's New Clothes' was played in Russian: Putin as parachutist, Putin on a nuclear submarine during the test of a new intercontinental missile, Putin as supreme commander at the Chechen front. His message was that [the rest of the world] has to count on Russia again. And now the accident of the 'Kursk.' It looks like the girl in a fairy tale who says...that the emperor is naked. The most depressing thing with respect to the disillusionment of the Russian military power, however, is of a human, not strategic nature. Obviously, the engineers who developed the 'Kursk' did not attach too great attention on how to save the crew in case of an accident. The men, who are trapped inside the submarine are the victims of Russia's megalomania."
ITALY: "The Wrong Step By The New Czar"
According to a front-page editorial by Alberto Flores D'Arcais in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (8/18): "Silence, lies, arrogance, inaction. The tragedy of the submarine...has also dragged the image of Vladimir Putin down.... The strong man, the 'new Czar' who was destined to bring Russia back to its past glory, has lost all his credibility in a few days.... The reason why the Russians will not forgive Putin is that ten years after the end of Communism, the old methods have allowed the new power to sacrifice 118 lives."
"'SuperPutin' Legend Sinks"
Centrist, influential La Stampa filed from Moscow (8/18): "According to the Russians, today Putin should be at the Barents Sea...following the rescue operations. Yesterday's public surveys, conducted for 'Echo of Moscow' radio, heated up its switchboards: Most of the radio listeners wanted Putin to immediately interrupt his vacation, (adding) 'Clinton does it all the time.'"
"That Nuclear Nightmare Is The Heritage Of USSR"
A front-page editorial by Edgardo Bartoli in leading, rightist opposition Il Giornale held (8/18): "The threat of a new Chernobyl in the Barents Sea...adds the final touch to the Kursk tragedy...which is far larger than a temporary fall in Putin's image and credibility. Whether supposed or real, the 'nuclear' threat is clearly justified and it certainly isn't new. For many years now, the [legacy of] the former USSR's armaments and its nuclear industry have been spread...to [its] 'heirs' and abandoned to rust for lack of funds.... This is the ongoing concern that all the various SALT treaties cannot dispel."
"'They Have Called Us, But It Is Too Late'"
Arturo Zampaglione filed from New York in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (8/18): "Not only reasons of national pride and delusions of grandeur are behind the Russian reluctance to ask the United States for help. In fact, according to military experts the (Russian) submarine is provided with very sophisticated armaments, including sonar systems and anti-aircraft-carrier missiles that Moscow would like to keep away from the eyes of the West--and from the United States, in particular."
"Ruins Of The Empire"
A front-page editorial by Paolo Garimberti in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica observed (8/17): "It must have cost Putin a lot asking Great Britain and Norway for help.... And Putin himself, the former KGB man whose main political doctrine is the recovery of the image of Russia, had to ask.... Putin has hesitated before...in accepting offers from the West. His cult of secrecy...must have made him think that a Western intervention might undermine (Russian) military security in the heart of what they still consider 'their sea.'... High-ranking officials probably convinced Putin.... The same officials that he met only a week ago...and that he encouraged to regain their lost confidence. But what confidence would they be able to regain should their president give up rescuing his last 'elite' crew for the sake of his petty czar-like pride?"
"Incapable Of Surrendering To The Decline Of Its Military Status"
Piero Sinatti opined in leading, business-oriented Il Sole-24 Ore (8/17): "The Kursk tragedy demonstrates the enormous weight of the Soviet heritage: an abnormal armaments surplus that Moscow is not capable of managing due to its new economic conditions.... And the worst part of it is...the inability to accept its changed status of power as well as its severe budget limitations. (Russia) looks at the United States as if the Cold War were still continuing. Washington reciprocates by increasing its military expenditures as well as monitoring [Russian] naval exercises. Finally, another Soviet legacy (is) its disdain for the human factor."
BELGIUM: "Misplaced Pride"
Publisher and Chief Editor Dirk Achten opined in independent Catholic De Standaard (8/18): "Putin peacefully continued his vacation and informed NATO...that there was no need for help. Russia was capable of handling the affair by itself, like the big boys. A more dramatic loss of face is barely imaginable. Now that the crew is probably dying on the bottom of the ocean one cannot but have the impression that they have been sacrificed on the altar of misplaced Russian pride. Russian rulers and generals have never had much consideration for the lives of their subordinates. In today's Russia, however, that is no longer accepted just like that. The whole of Russia is following the drama with the Kursk closely. The cool, haughty Putin is rightfully held responsible. There is a rejoicing that Russia's current rulers can no longer afford to act the way they please."
Foreign affairs writer Paul De Bruyn commented in conservative Catholic Gazet van Antwerpen (8/18): "The tragedy with the Kursk says a lot about Russia. It corroborates in what bad condition the Russian armed forces are.... Damaged pride certainly plays a role in their silence.... That same pride probably also explains why Putin has refused foreign help. He wanted to show that the Russian rescuers could handle the job alone. Saving the Kursk would have been a prestigious effort. Asking for help was the umpteenth confirmation of their own failure.... While relations with the West are better now, secrecy continues to prevail in the world of submarines. It is the most sophisticated form of warfare and the Russians and NATO still play a cat-and-mouse game. Actually, only one thing is important for Moscow: to prevent the West from acquiring too much information about prestigious assets like the Kursk.... Human lives have never been very important to Russian generals. That is still clear every day in Chechnya. Maybe, a miracle can still save the lives of the crew, but nobody believes that now. In that case, Putin will be held responsible. Criticism is already growing in Russia. The tragedy may harm him greatly, but he caused it himself. People who gamble with human lives do not deserve compassion."
"A Rude Awakening For Putin"
Marc Van de Weyer stressed in Catholic Het Belang van Limburg (8/17): "There is more at stake that the lives of the crew. For Putin, the Kursk was an essential part of his struggle to restore Russia's status as a great seafaring power.... The Kursk was the crown jewel of the new class of nuclear submarines.... Now, however, one has the impression that Russia is not even capable of defending its own territorial waters. The disaster with the Kursk occurs at a moment when Russia' military and political leadership are fighting over fundamental choices that the nation must make in the military area.... The drama with the Kursk is a rude awakening for Putin's rhetoric about Russia as a proud superpower.... The fact that Moscow finally accepted a helping hand from the NATO camp is the only good news in this tragic event."
"Russian Military Losing Face, Putin Dealt Heavy Blow"
Jean Vanempten argued in financial De Financieel-Economische Tijd (8/17): "The drama with the nuclear submarine shows that the Cold War is not over and that distrust prevails in the military world.... The Russian military leadership barely admitted that there were problems with this submarine.... Much worse is the fact that the military remained so paranoid that they haughtily refused all help.... If the rescue fails, Russian military leaders will bear heavy responsibility. Their distrust of former enemies may turn out to be deadly for their own troops. To date, Putin has cleverly exploited the call for a strong Russia and a strong military. Today, that rhetoric threatens to hit back like a boomerang. Not only is the Russian military losing face, but Putin's image, too, is being dealt a heavy blow."
ESTONIA: "Remarkable Public Pressure"
Kadri Liik wrote in top-circulation Postimees (8/18): "The president betrayed 118 sailors and let them die slowly in the cold sea by not accepting foreign help immediately.... In 1986, the Soviet Union was too proud to admit to the Chernobyl accident and refused to accept foreign help. The Russian media has now found Putin guilty of not asking for foreign assistance and of not even returning from vacation.... We have to remember who owns the Russian media: Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Potanin, Luzkov.... All of them are enemies of Putin who cannot expect understanding from the media.... It is remarkable that the initiative and strong pressure to invite NATO to help came from the public. It proves that there is no real hate for NATO in Russia."
FINLAND: "At Least Russia's Civilians Have Changed"
Leading, independent Helsingin Sanomat's editorial read (8/18): "Russians have also started to ask why the accident was concealed from the public for over 36 hours and why assistance from NATO and Sweden was rejected for so long. Nonetheless, at least Russia's civilians have changed. Only a few years ago, ordinary people, not to mention the military, would not have dreamt of turning to NATO for help. Confidence in Russia's own armed forces has obviously declined.... For [Putin], the Kursk accident is also a major political setback.... The helplessness of the rescue operation...simply strengthens the impression that the defense forces are in a weakened state."
"Cover-Up, Lies, Excuses, Delays"
Independent Aamulehti said in its editorial (8/18): "This is a tragic accident but it should also serve as a wake-up call.... Within the navy, the much-touted openness turned into cover-up, lies and a confusion of the most fantastic explanations. No contact was made with Norwegian authorities, despite a treaty under which the two are obliged to inform each other about accidents like this. The catastrophe is a loud wake-up call for the rest of the world as well, although a German expert said...Western powers have known for a long time that Russia's submarines are ticking time bombs."
HUNGARY: "Russia's August Dive"
Top-circulation Nepszabadsag carried this piece by Moscow correspondent Zoltan Szalai (8/18): "The earlier bomb explosion in Moscow, and now the downed submarine, have delivered a blow to the self-confident...Russian president Putin.... The accident of the Kursk submarine has anyway occurred at the worst possible moment. The fact that the debate over Russian Army reform is going at full steam has been overwhelmed by new reports about the recent catastrophes. It is still a question who will win in the debate, but that is not important for the Kursk anymore."
NORWAY: "Fewer Chances, Bigger Lies"
In moderately conservative, newspaper-of-record Aftenposten (8/18), foreign affairs journalist and Russia expert Kjell Dragnes commented: "The headline is not ours, it is taken from a commentary in a Russian internet newspaper, and shows that the allegedly toothless, repressed and controlled Russian media can come out with biting commentaries and sharp questions to high-level Russian military leaders and politicians. One of these sharp questions was asked by radio station Echo of Moscow yesterday, when it was still unclear if Russia would ask for help from abroad to bring up the 118 stranded from the submarine Kursk.' The station asked if it was right to reject the help.... The response from the listeners was ringingly clear: 75 percent felt it was wrong to reject help.... But after the 'Kursk' went down, [Putin] went on vacation.... Such things don't go over well at home when an entire country, and the whole world, is following what is going on at the bottom of the ice-cold Barents Sea. The Russian media have also noted this. They report, and they comment. 'Kursk' may become, as Echo of Moscow hints, a blow to Putin's prestige."
"Poor Russian Rescue Effort"
Social democratic Dagsavisen's lead editorial held (8/18): "The rescue submarine LR5 is now on its way to the Barents Sea in the last, desperate attempt to save the crew.... This is a half week too late.... The rescue action shows that although Russia has become democratized, large parts of the society still function in the old communist way. The way the Russian defense leadership has handled the submarine loss is being criticized by everyone. Now strong criticism is coming from the Russian media and from ordinary people.... The reactions are understandable.... When Russian authorities took too long to accept help, it indicates that the nation's prestige is more important than saving life. This is President Putin's responsibility."
"Everything As Before?"
Christian independent Vaart Land opined (8/18): "Everything is as it was before in Russia. The evil of the closed Soviet society still hovers over Russian politics and society. The least information possible will be made public... and will not be given out until it is absolutely the last option. We saw this in connection with the catastrophe in Chernobyl. We see it now with the submarine tragedy in the Barents Sea. At the same time, nothing is as it was. Because this time it is of no use to lock up the information and criticism that is bubbling up from Russian press, radio and television.... This gives hope that the submarine tragedy may lead to a change of direction of greater openness in Russia.... Both Russia and Norway have much to learn, which can raise preparedness and give increased security both on land and at sea. Mutual trust and openness are the key words here."
In independent tabloid Dagbladet (8/18), Peter Normann Waage commented: "The submarine drama in the Barents Sea is incomprehensible as a human tragedy. Because it is being played out near Russian waters and concerns a Russian nuclear submarine, one asks how much of this is Russia's fault, and how much has simply to do with the drama itself.... National pride is not unique to Russia. At the same time, the tragedy has enough 'Russian' elements. The most obvious is President Putin's reaction. He is on vacation at the Black Sea.... Every other democratically elected head of state would have gotten as near the site as humanly possible, because he or she would have known that a democracy demands such of its leader. The former KGB man doesn't know this yet.... And all reports tell of a population that has also become more modern than what the Russian government had thought and perhaps hoped. Therefore, the submarine wreck will not only leave behind dead, despair and perhaps nuclear contamination, it will also mark that the Russian society has grown beyond its leaders. This is the most important 'Russian' element of the accident."
"Russian Drama In The Barents Sea"
Moderately conservative, newspaper-of-record Aftenposten's lead editorial held (8/17): "The Russian authorities' handling of this accident tells us much about today's Russia--and about a Russia which has changed very little. First, it is already clear that the authorities have not put a premium on security like we find in Western navies.... Second, it took much too long a time before information about the accident came out... They allowed prestige to come first and did not want NATO assistance.... Information from Russian authorities has been partly conflicting and not very convincing. It has already released a wave of criticism in today's free Russian press. This is something new and positive and can perhaps push forward changes in the authorities' attitudes about security and information.... We have the impression of seeing an 'old' Russia, where much is still closed, where the hierarchy and officers and civilians show little independence and vigor, where prestige is weighed against human life, where a weak economy gives poor security."
POLAND: "No Changes In The East"
Jan Skorzynski observed in centrist Rzeczpospolita (8/18): "The tragedy of Kursk sailors, trapped in their sunken ship, shows the real condition of the Russian Navy's fleet. It also proves that little has changed in the mentality of those who run this state. In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster happened, the Soviet authorities informed the world and their own people about it only several days later.... The same lack of respect for human life can be perceived in the approach of Russia's military and civilian authorities toward the Kursk. The sinking of the submarine had been shrouded in secrecy for two days.... Not even a single representative of the state authorities took the trouble to come to the site to monitor the rescue operation--a routine and obligatory reaction for leaders in other countries."
PORTUGAL: "Proudly Alone"
In a commentary in center-left Publico (8/18), Jose Vitor Malheiros judged: "What is shocking in the case of the 'Kursk' is that we know...that not everything possible was done to save the sailors. This is because the Russian government preferred to decline outside help for days, for the sake of the stupidest national pride, and to maintain that Russia had all the means necessary to carry out a rescue.... There is no guarantee that British or U.S. technology could have changed anything. But if all the help offered had been accepted immediately...we would have been sure that everything possible was being done, and that Putin considered the lives of his fellow citizens more important than an infantile fear of losing face.... With this decision...Russia's leaders proved again that they are light-years from the concept of a 'concert of nations'...and that they still live in a world in which conflict and displays of force are the only forms of external relations, while silence and lies are the major forms of communication with their own people.... One could wish that Putin had learned the lessons of Chernobyl. It is evident that he hasn't, and this tells us what we can expect from Russia in its relations with the West and in the Chechen conflict."
SPAIN: "Putin's Catastrophe"
Conservative La Razon observed (8/18): "The Russian government has acted belatedly, badly and begrudgingly, wielding all the habits of secrecy and autocracy of its predecessors."
"Putin's Prestige Swamped By The Kursk"
Independent El Mundo observed (8/17): "The sinking of the Kursk forces Russians to face the hard reality of a military and economic decline that Putin has not managed to halt.... The sinking of the Kursk has a great impact on Putin; the disaster will always be associated with him."
SWITZERLAND: "A Symbol Of Russia's Weakness?"
Markus Spillmann wrote in Zurich's center-right Neue Zuercher Zeitung (8/17): "The plight of the nuclear submarine Kursk has fueled the conviction that Russia's armed forces are in a dire state of decay; but is this easy conclusion correct? Russia's defense industry is still amongst the world leaders. Russia is no longer a military superpower, but it seems that resources are now being allocated more efficiently. The plight of the Kursk is not a good omen, but it would be wrong to read too much into it."
JAPAN: "Not The Time For Russia To Be Concerned About Its Honor"
Moderate Tokyo Shimbun editorialized (8/18): "Both Russia and Western nations must join hands to rescue the crew members.... This is not the time for Russia to be overly concerned about its honor as a military power. Had Russia initially declined U.S. and British offers of help out of the fear that the sub's military secrets would leak out?"
"International Cooperation Needed To Rescue Crew"
Liberal Asahi's editorial read (8/17): "Russia's acceptance of foreign help shows that it is attaching greater importance to human lives.... But there are fears of the stricken submarine leaking radioactivity that will then contaminate the Arctic Sea. International efforts should also be made to recover the sub's nuclear reactors at an early date to prevent the sea from becoming an 'ocean Chernobyl.' The Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea during an exercise. A U.S. Navy electronic surveillance ship was operating in or near the Sea at the time of the accident.... Although the Cold War is over, the United States and Russia are still engaged in naval hide-and-seek games."
INDIA: "Russian Roulette"
The nationalist Hindustan Times had this editorial (8/16): "Two important warnings for the world sit right now at the bottom of the Barents Sea. First, the stricken Russian nuclear submarine is a grim reminder of how man can never be too careful while harnessing atomic energy. Secondly, it alerts all humankind to the terrible dangers posed by nuclear weapons, and reiterates the warning that nothing is worth playing Russian roulette with man's future.... The nuclear arsenals of countries around the world remain on high alert and so do their delivery systems in the rapid launch mode, despite the occasional talk of arms control, which in any case is a game of politics dressed up as an issue of technology. Nuclear stockpiles are susceptible to accidents as is proven by the numerous 'broken arrows' (major nuclear weapons mishaps) in the recent past. The nuclear nightmare now being played out under the choppy waters of the Barents Sea is but one more example of this."
CANADA: "A Russian Tragedy"
Serge Truffaut maintained in liberal, French-language Le Devoir (8/17): "This catastrophe may turn into an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportion.... The Russians rely so heavily on nuclear power, that its use is not limited to their war machines; but even extends to their icebreakers. Add to that some fifty nuclear warheads lying at the bottom of the oceans, a fact the U.S. Navy, unlike the Russian Navy, wants to keep secret.... Because of inadequate means and a lack of a sense of responsibility, the world is faced with a much more serious problem than Chernobyl. The Kursk tragedy is in its own way an insult to all the Chernobyl victims."