Russian admiral causes flap over nuclear ship risk
The head of the Russian navy rang alarm bells Tuesday after being quoted saying one of the world's most powerful nuclear warships might be about to blow up.
But Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov then denied making the comment and said he meant only that the Peter the Great, the pride of Moscow's Northern Fleet, was being poorly maintained.
Russian military analysts said the incident may have had less to do with an imminent danger than with rivalries among the top brass of a navy struggling to stay afloat on a budget that has been dramatically cut since its Cold War heyday.
Two major news agencies, Itar-Tass and Interfax, quoted Kuroyedov as saying he had ordered the nuclear-powered cruiser back to port and warning that "it may blow up any minute."
But some hours later, the admiral said he had been misquoted and the agencies' reports were "not true in any way."
"The ship's nuclear safety system is fully tested and meets all vital requirements," he told Tass in his later remarks.
"However, the state of the living quarters and the general state of the ship is unsatisfactory and fails to meet requirements set down by regulations."
He had given the crew two weeks to fix the problems. It was not clear where the ship was. Its home port is near Murmansk on Russia's Arctic coast, close to borders with Norway and Finland.
The 19,000-ton Kirov-class vessel has 20 cruise missiles that can be equipped with nuclear warheads.
Designed to challenge the U.S. Navy in the Cold War and originally named the Yuri Andropov after the former Soviet leader, the Peter the Great -- or Pyotr Veliky -- spent years in the dockyard after the Soviet Union collapsed before being finally commissioned, despite concerns over its cost, in 1998.
Declared the Northern Fleet's model ship last year, it plays a key role in maneuvers in the North Atlantic and has often hosted visits by officials, including President Vladimir Putin.
Kommersant newspaper quoted naval sources saying Kuroyedov's decision to recall the ship was motivated by rivalries among admirals, including Kuroyedov and the ship's master, Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, who is a bitter critic of the navy chief.
The Northern Fleet upset Putin last month when three missile tests failed during his pre-election visit to the scene of Russia's biggest war games in two decades.
The fleet also saw Russia's worst incident with a nuclear-powered vessel. The state-of-the-art submarine Kursk sank with all hands in 2000, months after Putin was elected, creating public relations disaster for the new president.
But Tass quoted Sergei Perevoshchikov, technical director of the Northern Fleet's nuclear-powered vessels, as saying all vessels were fully maintained and reliable.
"The Kursk accident showed that even with such a powerful explosion on the ship, the reactor itself was undamaged," he was quoted as saying. "This is the best proof of its reliability."