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19th Century Portraits

History of St. Petersburg Museum: Rumyantsev Mansion


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Nightmare at sea

Published: December 10, 2004 (Issue # 1028)

Mourners at the burial of the Kursk's captain, Gennady Lyachin, in St. Petersburg in March 2002. Just before midday on Aug. 12, 2000, the Kursk submarine sank following two explosions during a military exercise in the Barents Sea. When news of the disaster broke two days later, riddled with official lies, the media went into a feeding frenzy: One hundred and eighteen patriotic sailors trapped at the bottom of the sea in a Russian nuclear submarine made an emotive story, especially during the slow news months of summer.

But as the truth about the disaster emerged, it was the reaction of the Russian military - befuddled, self-contradictory and intentionally deceptive - that took center stage. No less shocking was newly elected president Vladimir Putin's decision to continue his vacation on the Black Sea while the submarine accident was making headlines across the world. In short, the Russian leadership gave a brilliant example of how not to handle a crisis. The Kursk had been participating in an exercise intended to illustrate to the world that Russia was still a major player, but the inept reaction of the Kremlin - and especially the Navy - exposed the decline of the country and its military instead.

Skillfully building up tension in "Cry From the Deep," Ramsey Flynn, an American investigative journalist who admits he had never worked in Russia before beginning the book, gives a readable, if overly emotional, blow-by-blow account of a disaster whose causes are still fraught with debate. To this day, many in the Russian Navy think that the Kursk was sunk by a collision with a U.S. or British submarine, even though Putin has said that there is little proof of such a theory. Indeed, it's hard to believe that evidence of a collision would have been withheld by the Russians if it existed.

Flynn argues with skill that a faulty torpedo was to blame for the sinking of the Kursk - the same conclusion reached by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov in the official inquiry. The torpedo that sank the Kursk was a Type 65-76, more familiarly known as a tolstushka, or "fat girl," because of its size. The tolstushka has a bad reputation among sailors since the high-test hydrogen peroxide that it uses as an oxidizer can break down upon contact with common catalysts, rapidly expanding in volume and creating massive temperatures. The weapon had been loaded onto the Kursk on Aug. 3 with a "flood of paperwork irregularities," and roughly handled in the process. In an indication of how bad it is to be a sailor in the Northern Fleet, military analysts have claimed that submarine crews often have to pay torpedo units to ensure that they get well functioning weapons.

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Sunday, Dec. 21

The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the club’s website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.

Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.

Monday, Dec. 22

Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.

Tuesday, Dec. 23

Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBA’s and Capital Legal Service’s event “Arctic Expedition” this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers’ ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.

Wednesday, Dec. 24

The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.

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