The Malta Independent 20 September 2020, Sunday

The Russia of Putin began with the submarine

Wednesday, 26 August 2020, 10:15 Last update: about 24 days ago

The Russia of Putin began with the submarine

12 August 2000 - Underwater nuclear cruiser "Kursk" crashed in the northern part of Russia. Vladimir Putin, who was on vacation in Sochi, was just beginning his presidency. The crash of "Kursk" and the events of those days had a serious impact on the management style of the politician and determined the further development of Russia.

If the heat and humidity of August exhaust you in Malta, it's a great idea to visit Russia. During the last month of summer, even the capital, which is always noisy and crowded, becomes almost empty and spacious. As a bonus, you can try urozhay - a new harvest: fresh and delicious local vegetables and berries. However, all this coziness is as if under a curse of a wizard-prankster. The most peaceful and good month in the Russian calendar is usually a month of hard trials. By the end of July, Russians who have saved up at least some money, go to exchange them for dollars and euros. Since the putsch in 1991, August brings air crashes, defaults, terrorist acts (including those committed in Moscow in 1999 and 2004). The crash at the main hydroelectric power station, the K-159 sunk submarine, the military conflict with Georgia began ... every year leaves a wound on the body of the state at this period. Yet, what happened 20 years ago left a big fat scar and had serious political consequences. 


On that August day, I was sitting in an empty cafe near the office of the newspaper, waiting for my friend, a famous today pro-Kremlin journalist. As a student, I had an internship at the newspaper, and he was already working in hot spots and at significant events. He was too late. My pride did not allow me to order a third cup of unneeded tea, but when I wanted to leave, my colleague ran into the cafe screaming: "Cold beer, fast! I' m leaving with Putin to the north, a submarine disaster!" For a few days the whole country did not turn off the TVs - we were told that sailors are alive and they knock on the submarine body. But all 118 people died. 

"What happened to the submarine?" Larry King asked the new president of Russia in September of 2000. "It sank," responded with a smile, as many thought, Putin. These two words have become the President's calling card and for many years they have been quoted all over the world as either brutal or unwilling to answer a question. Some have spoken of the President's subtle black humour. Trolling, that's what they would call it today. But one needs to know Russian culture to appreciate the popularity of the phrase that we have heard since childhood: "What is the question, such is the answer." It is believed that without receiving an answer, you learn to ask a question. And here's another thing, every schoolchild meets every day a query: give a clear answer. And finally, in the military, an extra word is almost equal to negligence. I suppose that the answer that shocked the whole world was a national mix of embarrassment, the desire to joke in any situation (we often see no limits in terms of humour, but, unfortunately, we lack self-irony) and a clear answer to the question asked. It is also common to use as a joke a steady expression: "There is no way out of the submarine" - I'm glad he didn't answer that way!

After those events, the country began to change. According to the recollections of eyewitnesses and the stories of journalists' acquaintances, the President had a hard time communicating with the families of the victims. Screams, tears and rebukes were a negative experience. Justifications in the style: "It's not our fault, we got the country in a bad state" caused only more anger among people. Problems were also added by journalists who freely transmitted the position of compassionate people. Titles appeared: "Putin will be never forgiven by the sailors for the Kursk. It seemed that the authorities were being attacked. People were talking with them as equals. They demanded actions and explanations. It would have been logical to suppose that the authorities had rushed to modernise technical units, but the entire state structure had been reformed instead. No further questions to be asked. Future generations may consider this very event as the main trigger that shaped the politician, a young president back then.  

We often talk about the role of the leader, his personality in history. And this example demonstrates the role of an event in the formation of both his personality and history.

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