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Russia Investigates Mini-Sub Incident

Russia is launching an investigation into the Navy's response to the stranding of a mini-sub at the bottom of the Pacific that was rescued Sunday with British help. The memory of the Kursk nuclear submarine accident five years ago, in which 118 people died is still fresh, and the government is drawing criticism for its handling of the rescue.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov Monday visited the seven people who were rescued from the mini-sub Sunday, after three days stranded on the ocean floor off Russia's far-eastern coast, and only hours, officials say, before they would have run out of oxygen.

Mr. Ivanov commended the sailors for their bravery, and said the Russian Navy would have all the technical equipment and material it needs in the future.

Later, addressing reporters in the Russian Far East, he said President Vladimir Putin had ordered a full-scale investigation of the incident off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

In comments broadcast on Russian television, Mr. Ivanov says the expert commission will examine thoroughly the actions of fleet forces and defense ministry officials. He also said that the Russian Navy's second-in-command, Vladimir Masorin, would lead the investigation of how the small submarine came to be trapped under water for three days.

A British underwater rescue vehicle helped lift the sub to the surface on Sunday, and all seven sailors on board were rushed to the hospital. There they were placed in cardiac care, due to hypothermia and hypoxia, and are expected to remain under close watch for three days.

The sailors' close brush with death has many in Russia asking why it was necessary to ask for foreign help. There are also questions as to how and why it happened a second time. This month marks the five-year anniversary of the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk with 118 hands on board.

Leading independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer tells VOA that, unlike in the Kursk tragedy, Russian officials this time called for outside help in time. But still, he says the main lesson of the Kursk has yet to be learned, and that, he says, is that Russia must have an adequate search and rescue service of its own.

"There was a lot of talk, but nothing really improved operationally," said Mr. Felgenhauer. "Again, right now, there is a lot of talk, but no one can be sure that this talk will transform into real, adequate action."

Until that lesson is learned, Mr. Felgenhauer adds, Russia will be, as he put it, "hopelessly helpless." He also said he holds out little hope for this latest official probe.

"The problem is, it's going to be a closed military investigation," he said. "We will not know what they determine. It will all be covered with a cloak of secrecy. There will be no parliamentary open inquiries, there will be nothing really published, and, basically, I believe, the navy and the military will do their best to sort of sweep it all under the carpet."

The Russian press was equally critical Monday. The Gazeta daily said on its front page that no one had learned the lessons from the Kursk. The newspaper went on to say that, only when the situation was near critical, did the navy's top leadership ask for outside help.

"It wasn't our victory," wrote another popular daily, Moskovsky Komsomolets.