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Kursk tragedy overshadows Navy Day
Russia celebrated Navy Day in subdued style on Sunday, overshadowed by the fast approaching first anniversary of the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster in which 118 sailors died.
The Northern Fleet to which the Kursk belonged cancelled its traditional naval parade for the first time in its history, as a sign of respect for relatives of those who lost their lives.
"We believe it would be wrong to blur the memories of our comrades-in-arms killed on duty (by) holding celebrations on the eve of the first anniversary since the tragic end of the Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk," Itar-Tass quoted Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov as saying.
"I am convinced people will understand this because it's (a) very human" decision, he said later in comments broadcast on Russian television.
The Kursk, one of the most modern vessels in Russia's fleet, sank last August 12 after two unexplained explosions ripped through its hull. A government inquiry has yet to publish its findings into the tragedy.
President Vladimir Putin was heavily criticised at the time for failing to cut short his summer holidays to take personal charge of the emergency. He later pledged to raise the vessel whatever the cost.
A navy spokesman said on Sunday divers had cut a fresh hole in the outer hull of the wrecked boat, through which heavy lifting cables would be attached to hoist the Kursk to the surface in an operation planned to culminate in September.
PUTIN SIGNS NAVY DOCTRINE
Putin marked the day in Ukraine's Crimea region, attending a review of 28 Russian and Ukrainian warships in Sevastopol with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the first joint celebration at the Ukrainian port since the Soviet Union collapsed. Putin later announced he had signed a new naval doctrine designed to "promote the strengthening of Russia's national interests and its international authority as one of the leading naval powers".
In an earlier message to the Russian fleet he said the navy was a "symbol of the power and greatness of our country". Modern technology and weaponry and improved training would "permit the strengthening of state security and defend Russia's national interests in the 21st century".
Putin's words were echoed in Russia's far eastern port of Vladivostok, where Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov braved strong winds and rain to review the Pacific Fleet at its home base.
"The state is strong only, including in trade, when it is backed up by a certain strength. I very much hope and believe that the Pacific Fleet will gradually emerge from the coma in which it has been over the past few years", he said in comments broadcast on NTV television.
Ivanov, a close Putin ally, was drafted in to oversee deep cuts in force strength as part of an avowed aim to make Russia's military leaner and more effective.
He told state-run RTR television that "with all the difficulties that exist in the country, the fleet is on the whole combat-capable".
Russia's economic woes since the collapse of Communism in 1991 has seen the fleet shrink dramatically from its Soviet heyday, when it boasted 400 nuclear and diesel submarines and 700 surface vessels. Some western estimates say that number had shrunk by 50 percent by 1995.
The Jane's defence analysis group says the navy has suffered more than other branches of Russia's hard-pressed armed forces in the battle for scarce resources, as regional conflicts such as Chechnya have preoccupied military chiefs.
Jane's said crews are increasingly losing basic skills and sea duty has been cut by a quarter for submarines since 1997, and for ships by a third. Ecology campaigners have accused the navy of recklessly dumping nuclear and toxic waste at sea.
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