uncovering the kursk cover up
Published: February 21, 2003 (Issue # 845)
Moore, relying on the British and Norwegian experts who joined the rescue operation, provides a vivid account of the last desperate efforts to open the hatch. At one point, foreign divers were struggling to open a key valve that would indicate whether there was still air behind the hatch. Russian experts at the surface insisted that the valve must be opened counter-clockwise, and they said it would break if turned the other way. The valve didn't budge. After debate, the divers tried turning it clockwise - and the valve moved. The Russians were wrong about a simple valve on one of their most technologically advanced ships.
Moore's narration is fast-paced, but he disappoints on sources and offers no footnotes. With few exceptions, he does not indicate to the reader what information came from his own interviews and research and what was taken from other sources. Overall, however, his findings parallel those of the official investigation, which was closed last summer.
Although Moore lightly sketches the role of President Vladimir Putin, who was acutely embarrassed by criticism of his slow reaction to the disaster, he does not delve into the implications for today's Russia. The tragedy was a telling example of how the Soviet legacy still lingers. The Kursk families and the Russian people were repeatedly misled by the authorities. In the absence of a strong civil society, Russian leaders still assume they don't have to communicate with the people they govern. Until they do, the most important lessons of the Kursk disaster will not have been learned.
David E. Hoffman is foreign editor of The Washington Post.
"A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kursk Tragedy." By Robert Moore. Crown. 271 pp. $25.
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