On 8 September, four weeks after the Kursk sank, the Berliner Zeitung published a story claiming that the submarine was accidentally hit by a smart torpedo fired during a naval exercise by Peter the Great, the Russian warship that was also the first vessel to reach the Kursk's last reported position. The article was incendiary enough to elicit immediate denials from the Navy, the FSB - Russia's FBI - and Igor Klebanov, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chairs the Government committee of inquiry. It's not clear, to me at least, where the story came from, but it must be out there, living its own life amid all the rumours and accusations. On 2 November, the reasonably respected tabloid-format Novaya Gazeta printed what purports to be a transcript of an interview with an anonymous sailor, apparently from the crew of Peter the Great, though this is nowhere specified. 'We were in the same area as the Kursk,' he says - presumably it's 'we': in Russian this is ambiguous - and goes on:
The test-firing was organised by civilian specialists. So we fired, and then suddenly out of the water there's this explosion, like an atomic bomb, and then another. Everyone went pale. The first thing that was said: 'We've . . . we've hit someone.' We thought it was an American . . . The Peter immediately tore out of the area. Nobody could think of anything other than getting away. When we'd left, we heard on our radio: 'We've lost radio contact with the vessel,' and the area of the test-firing was indicated. Then we understood who we'd buried. We turned round and went to search, preparing ourselves for prison.
LRB 30 November 2000 | PDF Download