Putin Faces Wrath of Submarine Relatives
Aug. 22 -- Beleaguered Russian President Vladimir Putin held a tense and emotional meeting today with wives and relatives of the 118 sailors who died in the submarine Kursk as Russia prepared for a day of mourning.
Putin traveled to the northern Russian naval base where the Kursk began its last mission for an unprecedented encounter with relatives, where they grilled him and vented their anger.
“When will we get them back, dead or alive? Answer as the president,” shouted one woman in the crowd, referring to the bodies of the sailors, shown on state-owned RTR television.
“I will answer as I know it myself,” said Putin, the rest of whose remarks were lost due to the bad quality of the tape.
Independent television NTV showed a somber-looking Putin sitting and talking with Irina Lyachin, the wife of Kursk commander Gennady Lyachin, who died with the rest of the crew after the nuclear-powered vessel sank on Aug. 12.
A reporter for RTR said the meeting had lasted three hours and described it as a “difficult discussion.” Putin had promised to talk for as long as people wanted him to, he added.
Putin met between 500 and 600 relatives and local residents. Interfax news agency quoted a source who was at the meeting as saying the Kremlin leader had expressed anger at the poor state of the navy’s rescue equipment.
“It is impossible to believe it is all over,” Interfax quoted Putin as saying. “The grief is immeasurable, no words can console. My heart is aching but yours much more so.”
The media also lashed out at Putin.
The English-language Moscow Times denounced “Czar Putin” for his perceived reluctance to accept international help.
“Did official reluctance to accept international help kill anybody?” the paper asked, noting that tapping was heard inside the sub as late as Wednesday, and that a British rescue sub could have been on the scene as early as Tuesday if help was requested immediately after the disaster.