- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 10, 2000


People in Russia and around the world hope that the death of the sailors on the Kursk has a silver lining. Optimists are saying that, at the very least, the backlash following the tragedy will teach President Vladimir Putin that Russians are willing to sacrifice only so much for the sake of their country's international image.
Although it is painful to imagine that those sailors died such a grim death in vain, that appears to be the reality. In fact, the Kursk seems to have given Mr. Putin's autocratic ambitions new impetus. Rather than recognize his failure to respond humanely to the Kursk accident, Mr. Putin has instead attacked the media that has reported on the accident.
Boris Berezovsky, who has a 49 percent stake in the television station ORT, said Monday that the Kremlin has threatened to lock him up in jail if he failed to give the government his share in the station. In a letter to the Russian president that was made available to news organizations, Mr. Berezovsky said that a high-ranking Kremlin official told him that Mr. Putin was infuriated by the station's Kursk coverage, particularly the interviews aired with the crew's family. The president had therefore "decided to rule ORT himself."
Granted, Mr. Berezovsky has reportedly been involved in very murky business dealings, but he should be given credit for playing hardball with the Kremlin. Rather than follow the orders of the president, Mr. Berezovsky chose to expose him. And he has decided to give his share of the company over to "journalists and other representatives of the creative intelligentsia" rather than the Kremlin. Mr. Berezovsky said "If I agree to the ultimatum, television information will cease to exist in Russia and be replaced by television propaganda."
Mr. Berezovsky's account of events has certainly been substantiated by other information. During a meeting with the relatives of the submarine's crew which was recorded by one of the participants, Mr. Putin lashed out at "people on television" who are striving to "discredit the army and destroy … the fleet."
Mr. Putin has yet to realize it is he who is discrediting Russia's military. And it would appear that his Kursk problems have only just begun. A Norwegian vice admiral who helped in the submarine rescue effort has accused Russian officials of putting the lives of his deep-sea divers at risk by giving inaccurate information about the accident.
The Russian people have entrusted their country to a former KGB agent who lacks any sense of responsibility or compassion necessary to be an effective ruler. Russia can only be restored piece by piece, through honest evaluation of its current plight, sacrifice and genuine respect for democratic institutions.

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