Cry from the Deep: The Sinking of the Kursk

Overview

On August 12, 2000, during one of the most important military demonstrations in post-Soviet history, an enormous explosion sank Russia's most prized nuclear submarine, the Kursk. When Vladmir Putin's men failed to rescue the 118 young submariners trapped under the icy Barents Sea and refused timely help from "foreigners" for four days, the Russian president assured his angry nation that all the men had died within minutes of the blasts. An earlier rescue would not have changed ...

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Overview

On August 12, 2000, during one of the most important military demonstrations in post-Soviet history, an enormous explosion sank Russia's most prized nuclear submarine, the Kursk. When Vladmir Putin's men failed to rescue the 118 young submariners trapped under the icy Barents Sea and refused timely help from "foreigners" for four days, the Russian president assured his angry nation that all the men had died within minutes of the blasts. An earlier rescue would not have changed anything.

Two months later, recovery divers brought up the dead submarine's first twelve bodies, one of which had a soggy note clinging to the burned remnants of his breast pocket. Addressed to his wife, it read:

There are twenty-three of us here ... None of us can get to the surface. Let's hope someone will read this. Don't despair. — Kolesnikov

The "Kolesnikov Note" became the cry from the depths of Russia's tormented soul, as an anguished people confronted their government about what matters more — guarding secrets and pride or protecting human life.

What were Russian officials thinking when they waited forty-eight hours to acknowledge that their most treasured submarine was in trouble? Why did they track the desperate tapping noises that seemed to be coming from the sub without sending an international SOS?

For a world community still mystified by deadly Russian deceits surrounding the Kursk submarine disaster, Cry from the Deep solves the riddles once and for all. What emerges from Flynn's exhaustive reporting is the definitive account of this pivotal moment in Russia's rocky emergence into the community of free nations.

By turns thrilling, heart-wrenching, and absorbing, Cry from the Deep exposes the truths behind an event that riveted the world, devastated and enraged the Russian people, and ultimately defined a new era of Russian politics.

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Editorial Reviews

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"There are 23 of us here…. None of us can get to the surface. Let's hope someone will read this. Don't despair. Kolesnikov." When this note was released two months after the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, it threatened to topple Vladimir Putin's regime. The plaintive missive, found on the body of a navy lieutenant, squashed forever the government's self-serving defense of its own inaction after the underwater disaster. It also sparked severe questions: Why had Russian officials waited 48 hours to acknowledge that their prize submarine was in trouble? Why had they declined international help even as the few remaining survivors died excruciating subterranean deaths? In Cry from the Deep, investigative Ramsey Flynn attempts to answer these questions.
Publishers Weekly
A gripping and gruesome tale, this book is a superb account of the loss of the Russian submarine Kursk off northern Russia in August 2000. Long-range torpedoes fueled with hydrogen peroxide exploded in succession, which sank the submarine; a fifth of the crew of 118 survived the explosions, but probably did not last more than another eight hours. The Russian Northern Fleet failed to recognize the signs of an accident, failed to take any sort of constructive action with its limited resources, failed to inform political superiors, and didn't allow any cooperation with the efficient rescue gear of the NATO navies. Russian officials were then caught by the independent Russian media in several outright lies, which made for further scandal. Not that Western authorities were much more on the ball-the American and British embassies were left in the dark for several days-but the whole tragedy of errors profoundly embarrassed the newly elected Putin regime. Flynn has researched exhaustively in already crowded territory, interviewed widely and written clearly, leaving very little room for rumor, innuendo or propaganda (he definitely rules out any collision with a NATO submarine, for example). Agent, David Black. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This popularly written book about the Kursk disaster that shocked the world in 2000 strikes a timely nerve and requires little historical background on the part of the reader. Award-winning journalist Flynn (former editor in chief, Baltimore magazine) does a credible job portraying the tragedy of the Russian submarine whose entire 118-man crew died under mysterious circumstances. He claims that this portrayal is more than 90 percent factual, and the rest is "informed scenario." Flynn did hundreds of interviews, acknowledging that the truth always appeared to be "a moving target" in which "even those closely involved routinely resorted to speculation about what had happened." He used firsthand sources both named and unnamed. The postscript deals with current Russian politics that would be perhaps best left to other sources. Flynn's extensive endnotes add authority to his research. Recommended for public libraries.-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Story of the sorry, ideologically stultified efforts to rescue the sailors on the Russian submarine Kursk. In August 2000, during naval exercises in the Barents Sea, the mammoth, nuclear-powered submarine Kursk suffered a tremendous explosion when one of its notoriously temperamental torpedoes exploded while still in its launch tube. In drumming, daily reports, journalist Flynn reconstructs what he can of the fate of the sub. The physical end of the men was dreadful enough, but their plight as creatures in the political-military flux of early-Putin-era Russia created a nasty little piece of theater. It was the long-standing policy of Russian officers not to deliver any bad news to the higher ranks for fear of demotion or dismissal. ("All agreed that Russia's military culture remains hard-wired to Soviet-era thinking.") So critical hours were lost as fleet commanders failed to report that something dreadful appeared to have happened to one of its boats-which would have been hard to miss, considering that the blast registered 4.2 on the Richter scale. Exacerbating the situation was the gutting of the Russian navy during the years that Boris Yeltsin was in power, so that experienced sailors, decently maintained ships, and rescue boats were in short supply. Despite Putin's pedigree as the son of a submariner and his inclination to look favorably on the military's needs, Flynn explains that there was still considerable suspicion between officers and politicians. The military avoided alerting Putin for ever-more-critical hours, and their cult of secrecy led them to spurn offers of help from NATO nations (who were all over the area to see what they could see of the exercise) until it was toolate to help the men who survived the first few days. Power politics, vestiges of the Cold War, and the economic collapse of Russia sealed the submariners' destiny as surely as they were sealed into their deathtrap. A deeply depressing account, sharply etched and sensibly dissected. (16 pp. b&w photo insert, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066211718
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/23/2004
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Ramsey Flynn, the winner of a National Magazine Award for reporting, is a former staff writer for the Washingtonian and chief editor of Baltimore magazine. His stories have also appeared in Esquire, Reader's Digest, Men's Journal, and Philadelphia. He lives outside Baltimore with his wife and two young sons.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
1 Wives' Day 1
2 Loading Up 10
3 Endless Spying Game 19
4 Dangerously Late 24
5 Getting Under Way 35
6 Uss Memphis Prowls 42
7 Shooting Practice 50
8 Failing to Tame the Fat Girl 53
9 Killer Blow 63
10 Struggling for Survival 68
11 American Dilemma 80
12 A Worried Fleet 83
13 White House Situation Room 86
14 Fleet Breaking Point 91
15 Emergency Search 96
16 Rumors Come Ashore 101
17 Disheartening Signs 109
18 Western Paralysis 112
19 Lying to the People 116
20 The Global Whipsaw 123
21 Opening the Gates 131
22 Going International 137
23 Democracy, Up Close and Personal 148
24 Keeping the West at Bay 153
25 Down to Business 159
26 Putin Meets the Families 167
27 Facing the Nation 173
28 Summit Meeting 178
29 Undoing the Big Lie: Kolesnikov's Cry from the Deep 183
30 Seeds of Activism 195
31 Raise the Kursk 199
32 Naming Names 203
33 Tell the People the Truth 206
Postscript: Whose Legacy? 211
Acknowledgments 221
Notes 231
Index 273
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First Chapter

Cry from the Deep
The Submarine Disaster That Riveted the World and Put the New Russia to the Ultimate Test

Chapter One

Wives' Day

Vidyayevo Naval Garrison, Pier Eight
Sunday Afternoon, July 9, 2000

The wives hush when they first spot the giant black hulk. It's more squat than in the photographs they've seen, yet somehow more imposing. It looks like a capsized ocean liner draped in a shroud. The three couples murmur as they file out of the shuttle bus past the armed guards and hear the popping of bay water slapping the submarine's hull. The dark colossus dwarfs them as they draw closer, and the collars of the wives' coats flap in the diesel-scented breeze. Dmitry Kolesnikov, or "Dima," guides his wife Olga up the steel gangway to the sub's broad deck. He wants to make sure she feels comfortable meeting his beloved metal mistress. He wants his new bride to love her, too.

Olga is mystified. Why does her husband love this thing? Why do he and his friends speak of it with a reverence that makes the wives jealous? Why have they all staked their futures on $100-a-month salaries in a remote little fjord in the Arctic Circle? For this?

Standing in front of the Kursk's imposing conning tower, Olga shields her eyes from a sky brightly veiled with high sweeps of ice-crystal clouds. At fifty-two degrees, the weather feels oddly autumnal, even though it's a Sunday afternoon in July. "Olechka!" says Dima, using her pet name while boyishly tugging her aside to proudly describe the Kursk's topside fittings, quickly losing her in the inevitable jargon. She regards the vessel's great red crest emblazoned at the front of the central tower. The crest -- a golden double-headed eagle that evokes Russia's wariness about foreign invaders from all directions -- is already bleached from its few storied voyages.

The couples have been bonding into a submariners' "family," a very useful thing in Vidyayevo, the spartan garrison town on the Kola Peninsula where they all must live. Vidyayevo's cinder-block apartment buildings are rudimentary, riddled with peeling paint, power outages, heating problems, leaky plumbing, and water shortages. It is the kind of place where people wake up on dark winter mornings to find their teapots filled with ice. Life in Vidyayevo is all about making do. When the few shops close in the evenings, a spontaneous marketplace emerges in the treeless spaces between the apartment buildings, with a few entrepreneurial men selling sodas, beer, and cigarettes out of their jacket pockets, supplementing the handful of small kiosks that keep later hours.

So these loose-knit "families" share cars and sometimes apartments and often foodstuffs and tools and videos. For many of the town's nine thousand people, such communal habits make Vidyayevo a socially intimate place. The younger wives pride themselves on their collective culinary ventures, especially when making a group stew -- one contributing, say, beets or ham; another cabbage, or perhaps the prized mushrooms that appear after the late-summer rains, like manna springing from beneath the dwarf conifers and wild berry bushes that hug the rocky hillsides in a Darwinian struggle for Arctic sunlight.

Such routines have forged a stubborn indomitability in Russia's submarine community here, which clings proudly to a few terrifying prowlers of the deep that help assure their motherland's increasingly tenuous claim to world power. The Kursk is a potent leftover from the vast Soviet empire that stood toe-to-toe against an imperialist West for seventy years, and senior state officials believe the giant submarine still has an important future in helping to preserve Russia's place in the international pecking order. The six-year-old Kursk is among a shrinking handful of supersubs that can silently traverse the ocean depths and unleash a nuclear strike against an enemy navy's carrier battle group any time the Kremlin gives the orders. The young men posted to the Kursk guarantee that such orders will be carried out.

"This hull will be my blanket while I am away," says Dima as he leads Olga through an interior passageway on one of the Kursk's upper decks. "It will keep me warm and safe while I dream of you." The two take turns with the video camera they've brought along to record the day's visit. With the other two couples wandering off to their husbands' assigned compartments, Dima shows Olga the mysterious workings of his cloistered world. Olga is already getting accustomed to the strange scents -- a subtle blend of solvents and mechanical lubricants -- as Dima beckons her forward. She pans the camera across a cul-de-sac of control panels.

"Ty zdyes komanduyesh?" Olga asks. You are in charge here? It is a claustrophobic space, painted a wan yellow-green, crammed with pipes, wires, switches, meters, and gauges. Dima carefully ducks his head around a low-hanging piece of overhead equipment as he describes the console from which he oversees the eight-man turbine crew that runs the Kursk's forward turbine compartment. He explains broadly how the console tracks the performance of his section of the propulsion system, including the giant turbines that dominate the decks below him. Sensing her bewilderment, Dima suddenly becomes animated, showing Olga how he can recline on a rise in the floor and nap with his legs braced against the wall. Olga gasps at the contorted arrangement, but Dima boasts about his clever adaptation. "And if there is an emergency," he begins, then abruptly leaps from the floor and, darting his head left and right, hissing as if he's spitting bullets for punctuation -- "fut! fut! fut!" -- shows Olga how he can snap into action with the shrill call of a "battle alarm."

Moments later, Dima takes the camera and zooms in on Olga dancing toward him, Broadway-style, clicking her fingers as she performs a series of half pirouettes. "Take me with you to the sea," she pleads playfully.

"I can't," Dima says. "It's a bad omen to have a woman on the sub."

Cry from the Deep
The Submarine Disaster That Riveted the World and Put the New Russia to the Ultimate Test
. Copyright © by Ramsey Flynn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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