International Papers

Sub-Par Effort

The Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, disabled at the bottom of the Barents Sea with 116 men aboard, dominated the European press early this week. The Times of London said the sub was “sunk by Russia’s enduring enemies: sloppiness and secrecy.” The vessel is only five years old and yet, Britain’s Guardian speculated, “it may well be that it was poor maintenance, low morale and lax discipline which brought disaster.” Several papers blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s initial refusal to accept foreign rescue assistance on the habit of Soviet suppression. As the Moscow Times pointed out, “Our admirals know too well that disclosing secrets to the West may easily land them in the clink, while risking sailors’ lives most likely will not.”

Many papers fretted about the dangers of accidental war or environmental damage posed by the rotting Russian military. The Age of Melbourne said “the chances of a Kursk-style accident occurring in an armed forces suffering from chronic under-funding, acute morale problems and hazy command and control structures” are “alarmingly high.” The Times suggested that for Russians the disaster “is a terrible metaphor of the risks to which faulty equipment and sloppy maintenance expose their forces in every sector of the cash-strapped Russian military machine.” The same editorial claimed the accident “will also draw attention to the festering threat posed by Russia’s rotting nuclear fleet.” The Guardian reported that although Russia’s Arctic fleet has 42 nuclear-powered subs, including seven like the Kursk, “there is no money for fuel, there are rarely emergency generators on board the subs … and at least 70 percent of the fleet is in need of repairs.”

The Financial Times criticized President Putin’s reaction to the crisis. It reported that rather than “living up to the western image of a ‘hands on’ leadership that he has cultivated, he is sitting out the crisis thousands of miles away holidaying on the Black Sea.” The editorial also noted that as head of the security service Putin pursued treason charges against a former Russian captain who gave information about nuclear radiation leaks from submarines to a Norwegian environmental group. London’s Daily Telegraph assigned more canny motives to Putin’s distance; it suggested that he would “exploit the accident to accelerate the shift in spending from nuclear to conventional forces. … He can argue that international humiliation on this scale must be a spur for drastic reform.” Le Temps of Switzerland said the foreign offers of help had embarrassed Putin:

To accept would amount to an admission that the Russian president finds it decidedly easier to pound Chechnya with bombs for electoral purposes than to ensure the proper maintenance of his warships. To refuse might condemn the last hopes of the sailors imprisoned in their steel trap. That is what Vladimir Putin has come to: Measuring his strategic ambitions in terms of oxygen reserves.

Four women died in an arson attack on a Tel Aviv brothel Tuesday, the sixth such attack on brothels, escort services, and sex shops in a week. Earlier this year, Amnesty International claimed that in the last 10 years, 10,000 women from the former Soviet Union have been held in virtual sexual slavery in Israel. Police aren’t speculating about the identity of the arsonists, but the papers seem to suspect the ultra-Orthodox. An editorial in Ha’aretz said the Tel Aviv police can’t stop the growing demand for prostitutes, much of it from foreign workers who “arrive in Israel by themselves, and their loneliness and isolation turn them into enthusiastic customers [of the sex industry]. Other major customers … are men who live in closed, strait-laced communities, like Palestinians and Haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews].” It concluded:

The local authorities have to be responsible for insisting on all the necessary conditions for opening a business, including safety; the police have to keep an exact list of the prostitutes employed in the brothels; and the Ministry of Health has to take responsibility for the level of sanitation at the brothels and for the health of the women employed in them, including a demand for periodical mandatory checkups.

A question: After revealing that three of the victims were Israeli, the Jerusalem Post said, “Police have yet to identify the fourth woman, who is not an Israeli citizen.” If she is as yet unidentified, how do they know she is not an Israeli? Many countries keep information about citizens on file, but what powerful ID do the Israelis have that they can be so sure? (If you know, please post the answer in “The Fray.”)