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 presidents decree did not specify the reasons for firing the commander in chief of the Navy, a Kremlin spokesman, who requested anonymity, said on Wednesday morning. The general idea, however, is that a greater degree of discipline is needed in our Fleets.
Others within Russias Ministry of Defence speculated that the firing could be linked to Kuroyedovs ill health. Indeed, Masorin has been acting commander in chief of the navy for two months as Kuroyedov has been too sick to discharge his duties, said one Defence Ministry official to Bellona Web on Wednesday.
This report was underscored by Admiral Eduard Baltin, who told Ekho Moskvy radio that Kuroyedov's dismissal may have been linked to his bad health.
"Kuroyedov is very ill. He has been lying in hospital for two months, he had a complicated operation," Baltin told the radio station.
Kuroyedov is also of official Russian pension age, but that could have been extended by Putin. Masorin has two years to go until retirement age, and Russias Kommersant daily newspaper speculated that Masorin has only been appointed to find his own predecessor.
But Masorin wasted no time sinking his teeth into his new position, and began his tenure Monday by singling out several officers who he is holding responsible for recent naval accidents and mishaps and trumpeting the development of Russian nuclear vessels.
Igor Dyagalo, Kuroyedov's spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
|A rescue submarine of the AS-28 design photographed at an undisclosed location.|
The AS-28 accident was a humiliating blow requiring that, once again, foreign help had to be summoned to save an imperilled Russian submarine.
The AS-28 bathyscape rescue sub became critically ensnared in the depths off the coast of the Far East Primorskaya-Kamchatka Region on August 7th in fishing nets and under water sonar antennae. Another Russian rescue sub, using state of the art Scorpio technology, was unable to free the vessel after the rescuers apparently damaged the Scorpio device. British crews that were standing by managed to free the vessel in hours using the same technology.
The same day Putin fired Kuroyedov, he also formally signed off on awards for the crew of the narrowly rescued AS-28 sub and the British crew that saved them with medals. He also fired Admiral Alexander Zaika, deputy commander of military operations in Russias Northwest, who directed Russian rescue efforts to save the sunken rescue sub.
Critics of the mini-sub operation have asked why the navy did not have the necessary equipment or expertise to perform the operation itself.
|The Kursk after it was raised by the Dutch company "Mammoet" in autumn 2001 and transported to a military shipyard No 82 in Roslyakovo, Russia.|
Russian rescue workers were then also unable to save those who had survived the wreck, and a Norwegian team accomplished the opening of an escape hatch on the Kursk that Russian crews could not open for a week. By then, however, the sub had entirely flooded.
|Dismantling Russian submarines like the K-159, which sank in August 2003 while being towed to dismantlement, should be Rosatoms first priority.|
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.