In a widely anticipated shake-up earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin has fired long-serving Navy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov, who had managed to dodge responsibility for mishandling a series of naval disasters, from the sinking of the Kursk submarine in 2000 to an accident with a mini-submarine last month.
Kuroyedov, 60, has headed the Navy since 1997 and was relieved of his duties by a presidential decree, the Kremlin announced Sunday and was replaced by Admiral Vladimir Masorin, 58, who has been acting commander in chief of the navy for the past two months.
Many have been demanding Kuroyedovs head since the Kursk disaster in August 2000. But, even though he tendered his resignation at the time—which was rejected by Putin—he dodged the Kursk bullet, and blame was ferreted out to underlings, and the same has occurred in several other naval disasters and near misses ever since.
The sinking of the K-159, a derelict nuclear sub being towed through rough waters to a dismatlement point near Murmansk, also sank in 240 meters of water on Kuroyedovs watch. The accident killed nine of the boats 10 crew members, who were aboard to clog up leaks that sprang up along the way, and brought 800 kilograms of highly active spent uranium fuel to the ocean floor.
Kuroyedov again escaped discipline, which was transferred to the tug boat captain, the port chief from where the K-159 was towed and the head of Russias Northern Fleet. But the blame chain stopped there.
Sacking at Putins estate
Kuroyedov was fired during a gentle dressing down by Putin—thus the speculation about Kuroyedovs apparent ill health—who met both Kuroyedov and Masorin at the presidents country home outside Moscow. The meeting was also attended by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov and the media.
Putin 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. At the same time he subtly laid the blame for several of Russias naval embarrassments at Kuroyedovs feet.
"You face difficult tasks," Putin told Masorin according to international press reports. "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 hard times during his tenure 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," Putin said, according to media reports.
"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."
Masorin brings in sharp knives
Masorin himself, as then-acting commander of the Navy, brought Viktor Novikov captain of the Russian rescue vessel in the AS-28 incident up on charges, and the naval prosecutors office launched an investigation of the incident at Masorins behest.
On Monday, following his appointment as Commander in Chief of the Navy, Masorin said the investigation showed that those in charge of the operation underestimated the challenge of the operation they were dealing with.
His investigation implicated a host of high Navy brass, most notably Viktor Fyodorov, commander of the Pacific Fleet, for incompetence in handing the situation. In total, Masorin has doled out charges against five people, including the vice admiral of the Paficic Fleet, Konstantin Sidenko and the commander of the Northeast military region, Vice Admiral Viktor Gavrilov.
Masorin also announced his plans for the Russian navy to the press.
There are plans to develop the fleet, they need to be carried out, and I will carry them out," he said according to international news agencies.
In the first place, more focus will be placed on the development of the nuclear navy, he said, adding that the new upper brass of the navy intends to preserve that line of developing the Russian Fleet.
We must preserve the direction we have begun, he said.