Internet gives Russians voice

Russian leaders may have responded to the human drama of the Kursk in traditional stone-faced Soviet style, but for former atomic submarine Capt. Kirill Bekasov, that just isn't good enough anymore.

So Captain Bekasov, a retiree in the southern city of Stavropol, turned to the Internet to express his doubts about the official version of events, and to launch what he calls an "independent" search for a way to save the beleaguered crew.

Thousands of Russians visiting his Web site have turned it into a bulletin board for all the anger, doubts, fears, and hopes that aren't finding their way into the official media.

"I would rather be aboard the Kursk myself than to watch what is happening to those lads from this distance," wrote Bekasov, a 15-year veteran of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, in a lengthy analysis of the disaster and the Russian Navy's response at his site www.stavropol.net/kirill/aplguest.htm.

(Note: the site is in Russian.)

Bekasov's own answer is that the Kursk - the last generation of mighty Soviet technology - was probably destroyed by sabotage, a very typical way of viewing things in Russia, the motherland of conspiracy theories.

But the issue now, he says, is to mobilize the whole country to save the men aboard the Kursk. "We who are on the surface must do everything to save those underwater hostages. The whole world must help."

"Thank you for being there, Kirill," responded someone identified only as BD from Russian cyberspace. "I never imagined things could be this terrible. Still I believe and hope those boys will be saved."

Svetlana wanted to express her relief at finally discovering her brother, a submariner with the Northern Fleet, was not aboard the Kursk. "We only found out he's alive after many hysterical phone calls," she wrote. "I'm praying for the rest of them."

Many messages express dismay or outrage at the official handling of the crisis. "I feel sure that if we had fewer fools in government those boys would be safely on the surface by now," writes Evgeny. "I feel ashamed for my country."

"All of the admirals of the Northern Fleet should be fired," thundered Garis. "And if they don't succeed in saving the crew of the Kursk, they should be shot."

The bewilderment of many Russians at the accidental sinking of one of the country's most advanced submarines is on full display.

"A lot of us are not specialists, but we do have plenty of questions," writes a respondent known as VLZ. "But the media and cold pronouncements of military officials ... do not provide answers."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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