September 4, 2005

Putin sacks Navy head a month after mini-sub drama

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked
navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov on Sunday at a time when
the military is facing criticism over its handling of a
mini-submarine accident last month.

The Kremlin said Putin had appointed Admiral Vladimir
Masorin as the new navy head. Putin did not give a reason for
Kuroyedov's dismissal.

Local media had speculated that Kuroyedov could be axed
after seven Russian sailors were freed last month with British
help after three days trapped in an AS-28 rescue mini-submarine
600 feet down in the Pacific with dwindling air supplies.

Some critics asked why the Russian navy did not have the
rescue equipment to hand to match the navies of NATO countries.

Russian media said last month's events showed the navy had
failed to learn lessons after the Kursk nuclear submarine
disaster five years ago when the 118-man crew died when it sank
in the Barents Sea after explosions on board.

Putin, who met both men at his country house outside
Moscow, told Masorin -- previously chief of the main staff of
the navy -- that he had a lot of work ahead to build on reforms
already undertaken in the navy.

"You ... face difficult tasks," he said. "We would not be
able to solve all these problems even with the state's economic
potential growing if we do not strengthen discipline and order
and solve tasks of social protection of seamen."

Putin praised Kuroyedov's efforts in helping with naval
reform, but also noted the bad times during his time in office
since 1997.

"Since that time, we have not simply restored a significant
part of the navy but also created a realistic programme for its
development," he said.

"At the same time, there were difficult events, tragedies.
We all know about that. But I would like to underline once
again that with all these problems, all these tragedies, the
main thing is that the navy is undergoing a revival."

One admiral, Eduard Baltin, told Ekho Moskvy radio that
Kuroyedov's dismissal may have been linked to ill health.

"Kuroyedov is very ill. He has been lying in hospital for
two months, he had a complicated operation," Baltin told the
radio station.