The story of the Russian nuclear submarine sunk at the bottom of the Barents Sea with a 116-man crew is terrifying, but it should not be a surprise, especially to the Russian navy," asserts Carnegie's Alexander Pikayev in a New York Times op-ed dated August 16. As Russia accepts British assistance to rescue the crew of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, the plight of the entire Russian Navy has come under the spotlight. The following is an excerpt from "A Navy in Need."
"The Russian military, which has been deteriorating for many years, is now running on a mere $5 billion a year, in contrast to the $300 billion the United States spends annually on defense. From this meager allowance, Russia's commanders must pay 1.2 million soldiers and maintain one of the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world.
"…Submarines often break down and spend most of their time at military bases. Crew members are unable to conduct routine military exercises. The skills and qualifications of the officers have eroded, and young sailors, usually raw recruits, don't gain necessary experience. Officers are paid poorly, frequently less than $100 a month, if they are paid at all. Moonlighting is common, meaning that they probably pay divided attention to their primary duties.
"…Since the Soviet collapse, the Russian Navy has taken approximately 180 of its nuclear subs out of service. But it has been unable to dismantle more than 100 of them. Those vessels are kept afloat near their former bases or their dismantlement sites -- two-thirds in the north of Russia, on the Kola Peninsula and the White Sea, and one-third in East Asia, the Sea of Japan and Kamchatka. The subs are largely deserted, some reportedly without security, even though highly radioactive reactor cores remain on board.
"The magnitude of the problem is considerable. The vast majority of decommissioned submarines have two reactors each. Therefore, one or more of the 200 reactor cores could conceivably sink, sooner or later. Already at least one decommissioned sub has sunk -- fortunately, any reactor cores had been removed.
"Certainly, the Russian government has mismanaged the stockpiles it inherited from the Soviet Union. But it is more than Moscow's problem."