Voice From Sunken Submarine Spooks Putin

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Thursdsay, 11 a.m., EST

Among the bodies recovered from the Kursk was a note showing that 23 sailors survived the initial accident. How does this discovery change the picture of the disaster and its handling?

"It puts the lie to what officials from President Putin on down have been saying since the very first day of the crisis. In fact, the astonishing thing is that they made this note public right away, because there had been tremendous criticism over when and how the public were informed of the disaster, the botched rescue efforts and the refusal to seek foreign help.

"Putin had to spend an awful lot of money and ask the divers to risk their lives to pull bodies, and less than that, from the sunken sub. The last thing he wanted was a note with a voice literally from the dead telling Russians that the government had misled them from the beginning. The cover-up story from the Kremlin and the Northern Fleet was that the crew had died instantly, but this note shows that we still don't know how long the last crew member survived after the Kursk went down. It's obviously significant that 23 members of the crew of 118 survived the initial accident. So for Putin, it's another case of a syndrome that has been best described by former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin: 'We hoped for the best, but it turned out as always.' He'd put all this expense and manpower into recovering the bodies, and instead he lifted the very noose he'd tried to bury."

Does that create any more problems for Putin than he already has?

"Not really. It's a new chapter in a p.r. nightmare for the president, and it will certainly reopen the wound. Nobody has forgotten the Kursk, or the way the Putin administration handled the news and the failed recovery. But although he took a hit in the polls for his handling of the crisis, it hasn't mortally wounded him by any stretch."