Russian Navy: professionalism takes over

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin). The official reason for Russian President Vladimir Putin to fire Navy Commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov is "superannuation".

Hmm... do you really think finding a reason might be a problem with a navy chief who saw the Kursk submarine with 118 onboard blow itself up with a defective torpedo, the patrol ship Neukrotimy severely damaged in preparations for a Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, and the AS-28 mini-submarine all but lethally trapped underwater for three days with seven crewmen onboard?

Today the Navy commander is turning 61 and it is mandatory that generals and admirals retire after 60 unless approved by presidential decree. Last year the president decided to keep Kuroyedov on board, though most analysts could not believe it. Well "anchors away," Admiral, you're out of a job now - probably in reluctant but firm response to public pressure against you that became stronger than ever after the poorly handled AS-28 disaster.

Though President Putin, unlike his predecessor, is not in the habit of making hasty decisions and condemning top-ranking officials in public. He clearly tries not to leave hidden enemies behind but apparently had no alternative this time. Sure enough, Kuroyedov did not receive a public tongue-lashing and was commended for distinguished service at a personal meeting with his Commander-in-Chief, etc. However, blunders by the Admiral caused his flagship to sink under the immense weight of the on-rushing waters in the breaches of his ship's hull.

Putin's discontent with the operational readiness of the Navy was made more apparent as Rear Admiral Alexander Zaika, Deputy Commander of the Northeast Naval Task Force deployed in Chukotka and Kamchatka, also went down with the ship. Zaika was in charge of the overhaul operations on the underwater surveillance system which entangled the unprepared AS-28 in wires and poacher nets. He also failed to provide the crew working 600ft underwater with working backup and rescue equipment. The stranded sailors are now decorated with Courage Orders. In addition, sailors from the British, American, and Japanese navies who helped rescue them received the Friendship, Honor, and Maritime Service Orders. Admiral, one always must have a contingency plan!

Kuroyedov is succeeded by Admiral Vladimir Masorin who brought with him Northern Fleet Commander Mikhail Abramov as Chief of Staff - appointments military analysts believe will infuse new blood into the Navy. Though Masorin, 58, is also approaching retirement, experts describe him as an effective and professional manager who can reflect and make painful, crucial, timely decisions to keep the situation firmly under control.

In fact, Masorin was the one behind the request for foreign help when the mini-submarine crisis broke out, and his commitment and readiness to take responsibility for letting the U.S. and U.K. military into what has been a restricted area eventually saved lives and paid off in his promotion. In the capacity of Navy chief of staff (and acting commander when Kuroyedov was in hospital), he also added to his professional record such successful operations as the recent Sino-Russian war games near Shandong Peninsula, a Putin-attended major Northern Fleet exercise which included an ICBM underwater launch and live artillery and SAM fire in the Barents Sea, and a joint training cruise of Northern and Baltic fleet warships to the Atlantic. When you are that good at organizing such major events, promotion is more a matter of routine than of luck.

Masorin's Chief of Staff, Abramov, 49, very young for a top-ranking admiral, already has a reputation for professionalism and responsibility, and a solid record of commanding warships, squadrons, an SSBN flotilla, and even the Northern Fleet, the mainstay of Russia's naval force.

Now the duo have all freedom they need in transforming the Navy. Let's see whether they will prove up to the task of making it worthy of Russia's present and, more importantly, its future.

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