Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

FSB Investigates Kursk Sabotage Claims

Chechen rebels insist they were responsible for sinking the Kursk nuclear submarine
By Alexander Voronin

Russia's security services are investigating claims by a top Chechen commander that the Kursk nuclear submarine was sunk by a Dagestani saboteur working for the rebel cause.


Maverick warlord Shamil Basaev announced last week that the sabotage operation had been orchestrated by the Chechen high command. During a naval exercise in the Barents Sea, he said, the Dagestani agent detonated one of the submarine's torpedoes, fatally damaging the Kursk and killing her 118-strong crew.


Basaev refused to identify the kamikaze saboteur, explaining that "this was the man's personal request. He acted for Allah alone and not for personal glory."


However, other sources have since named Mamed Gadzhiev, a civilian specialist from the Makhachkala firm, Dagdizel, who was reportedly on board the Kursk to test a new torpedo propulsion system.


Sirazhudin Ramazanov, prime minister of Dagestan's Islamic government, said that Gadzhiev was a relative of the well-known submariner and Hero of the Soviet Union, Magomed Gadzhiev, who died in 1942.


Last Thursday, Nikolai Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service, FSB, made a special trip to Northern Fleet headquarters to investigate the allegations. On the following day, he told local media that there were two Dagestanis on board the Kursk -- Gadzhiev and First Lieutenant Arnold Borisov.


"The security services are currently collecting information about both these men," said Patrushev.


The Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea on August 12 after two successive explosions apparently ripped open the submarine's hull. It is thought the majority of the 118 servicemen on board were killed instantly, while others may have survived for several days in isolated air pockets.


The disaster has spawned a welter of conspiracy theories, many fuelled by the Russian ministry of defence, which still insists that the Kursk collided with a foreign submarine before it sank.


Both the British and American governments have rejected these claims and Western naval experts point to a fuel leak in the torpedo tubes as the most likely cause of the fatal explosions.


Last week, an official statement was posted on the Chechen rebel website, Kavkaz Tsentr, in support of the sabotage allegations.


It read, "A member of the crew made contact with the rebel high command through a close friend from Dagestan in June of this year. He made clear his desire to help the Muslims of Chechnya and Dagestan in their struggle against the Russian empire.


"The sailor said he had access to top secret naval equipment and could sink [the submarine] if he got the chance. He emphasised that he was willing to die for Allah in order to help his Islamic brothers who were fighting against a common enemy."


The statement added that the Chechen high command had waited until it was clear all 118 sailors were dead before making the announcement in case the "Dagestani hero fell into the hands of the Kremlin regime".


No official statement has yet come from the government of President Aslan Maskhadov, but it is generally understood that the Kavkaz Tsentre webstie is controlled by Movladi Udugov, the Chechen propaganda minister.


Alexander Voronin is a regular contributor to IWPR.


More IWPR's Global Voices