- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2000

''Don't place your personal interests above the interests of the state," was the message the Russian woman, Irina Zhuravina, was told by President Leonid Breshnev's state officials 32 years ago when she asked questions about her husband's death or disappearance on a Russian submarine in the Pacific. The fate of Mrs. Zhuravina's husband and the men serving with him on that doomed submarine in 1968 seems to be repeating itself at this very moment. The supposedly visionary Russian President Vladimir Putin has been missing in action when it comes to handling the Russian submarine disaster in the Barents Sea.

Mr. Putin's reluctance to ask the international community for help to save the men on board is cold and mysterious. Are we seeing the residue of communist pride? Or does the Kursk actually carry secrets not for the West to see, as some analysts have suggested? Either way, hope has all but faded for the crew of 118, who have been trapped for a week 350 feet under the surface. Maybe Moscow does have a clear notion of what is going on, but is not willing to share this knowledge with the rest of the world.

Mr. Putin is supposed to be a Russian leader for the new millennium, and has been greeted as such by the Russian people. Now, however, the reaction is one of sheer disillusionment. Taking four days to come out of his dacha to acknowledge the catastrophe and ask for help is reactionary if anything. It suggests a picture of a cold-hearted man who might not really believe in changing Russia.

Mr. Putin could be facing the same destiny as former President Mikhail Gorbachev who was silent for several days following the Chernobyl disaster. He was never able to do the job afterwards.

The question remains: How far is Mr. Putin willing to go to save the crew on Kursk and bring home the husbands, fathers and brothers aboard so they won't have to suffer the same fate as Mrs. Zhuravina and her husband?

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