From a November interview in Novaya Gazeta, the Moscow weekly, with an anonymous Russian who claimed to have been a sailor aboard the warship Peter the Great, the first vessel to reach the Kursk submarine's position after it sank on August 12. Russian officials insist that the accident was caused by a collision with a foriegn vessel; Western authorities believe it resulted from a failed onboard weapons test. Translated by Marina Makanova.
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He called the editorial office and asked for a meeting. Mention of the Kursk was as good as a password.
So we met. He spoke falteringly into the tape recorder. We know it may pain some people to read it. We crave their indulgence. But it is even more painful to remain ignorant.
The Peter the Great fired torpedoes and missiles at the Kursk. There is no doubt about it. It is strictly forbidden to test new weapons in a military exercise. But if you want to save money, then this is the thing to do.
That wonderful new weapon was tested.
A missile falls in the water, opens its sting, and releases a smart torpedo that searches out submarines.
We happened to be in the same area with the Kursk. The firings were organized by civilian specialists.
So we fired and fired, and suddenly a pillar rose from under the water that looked a little bit like a nuclear blast, then another one. Everyone was dumbfounded.
When we spoke, it was, "We hit somebody." We thought it was an American sub.
The Peter the Great immediately left the area. We could think of nothing better than leaving. As we left, a radio message was picked up -- "Communication lost with Kursk" -- and the area indicated was precisely the one where the firings took place. It then dawned on us whom we had hit. We turned back and began the search. We were sure we would go to jail.
Back in Severomorsk, we bought up all the vodka in town. The civilian experts drank pure alcohol. It didn't make them drunk. Later it turned out that nobody was going to look for the real culprits.
We were ordered to promote the theory of an "encounter with the enemies." The admirals were covering their asses. Nobody was thinking about the crew. Eyewitnesses were not needed.
They stayed alive for three days, as we learned from the note by the late commander of the turbine crew. In the beginning the hand is confident. The experts were weeping. It read: "We were murdered." It has the date, August 12, just after midnight. Later the batteries in their flashlights died. The last date in the note is August 15. The orders were for everyone to say that they had died within two hours of the accident.
P.S. As this issue was going to press, he called me again: "Are you printing it?"
When I said yes, he paused. "Silence lasts a minute. After that you have to say something."
He hung up.
We are printing it. And we understand it pains all the submariners.
Everyone who can still drink -- let us drink to their memory.
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From the February 2001 issue of Harper's Magazine.