As a member of the Northern Fleet the five-year-old double-hulled hunter class submarine was part of Russian manoeuvres involving some 50 warships and other craft that fateful August morning. Early on in the tragedy Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev asserted that a collision with "an underwater object" the same size as the Kursk (twice the length of a Boeing 747) was the cause of the disaster. In that first 24 hours following the tragedy theories initially included the sub having rammed a cargo ship, an icebreaker, a World War II or cold-war-era mine, the seabed and even having become the victim of sabotage.
Dmytro Korchynskyy, the head of the nationalist Ukrainian Political Association "Brotherhood", is reported to have said that the Kursk was destroyed by an act of Chechen sabotage. In a comment published at http://part.org.ua, Korchynskyy said two explosive devices equivalent to 800 grams of TNT were planted in the submarine during repair work carried out on the vessel. According to Korchynskyy, "people close to [Chechen field commander] Ruslan Gelaev" were responsible for the act of sabotage. And he commented that the Chechens paid only $6,000 to a member of the repair team to plant the explosive devices in the submarine.
Korchynski also claimed that Russia's Federal Security Service was informed about a possible sabotage act in Severomorsk two weeks before the "Kursk" tragedy but ignored the warning since the informer was from the entourage of Chechen interim administration head Akhmed Kadyrov who, according to Korchynskyy, is not trusted by Russian military leaders.
Cruising at 69 40 north, 37 35 east and within about 60 feet of the surface at 11:28, the submarine was blown apart by two explosions 27 seconds later that were recorded by seismic stations up to 2,000 miles distant, and by American submarines monitoring the Russian naval exercises some 70 miles away.
It would be unusual in the extreme if warships of the Northern Fleet that had gathered for manoeuvres were not being shadowed both in the air, on the surface and underwater by NATO countries. Those involved in covert operations would of course include submarines of both the American and British navies. Nothing unusual in that, as both sides have been playing this same game since the Cold War era at least.
This potentially dangerous game of cat-and-mouse has continued for decades. Sometimes the role-playing is taken a step further, as in the case of a British spy vessel used to monitor Russian radio signals in the North Sea. It officially operated as a mere simple fishing boat but this disguise was eventually recognized by the Soviets who, it is now believed, sank it. The fate of the crew is unknown, although reports that they appeared briefly in Northern Europe could never be confirmed. Meanwhile the British Government steadfastly refuses to corroborate any of this story.
Recently I was discussing events surrounding the Kursk with an acquaintance who is a former Ministry of Defence employee that retains close contact with his MoD colleagues. He says the word is that a British submarine might well have been involved but on no account would the Government ever admit to this. The deaths of a British crew and the fate of its submarine would remain highly secret for decades to come.
Close approach underwater has in the past even escalated to a point where one vessel actually makes contact with the other. Deliberate ramming of an opponent's ship is an acknowledged part of the 'game' among the navies of several countries it seems. In an interview with Russian Public Television (ORT) on August 21, Defense Minister Sergeev claimed that Russia has "localized" the object responsible for the loss of the Kursk but was unable to identify it. NATO, he continued, had denied that any of its vessels were in the area at the time of the disaster, but Sergeev added that "they have told us that even it that had happened, they would never acknowledge it."
Intriguingly later the same day, Interfax cited unidentified "military sources" as saying that an object resembling part of a "foreign submarine tower" had been discovered 330 meters from the Kursk on the bed of the Barents Sea. According to those sources, a collision with another submarine, "most likely British," remains the most likely reason for the sinking of the Kursk. Russian navy spokesman Vladimir Navrotskii later rejected the Interfax report as false, as did the British Ministry of Defence.
If this is true then we have a terrible double tragedy whereby alongside the grave of the Kursk's crew lies that of another, only these nameless men who served their country will eventually be mourned only by their families and in private when a government decides.