Russian Navy: Missile Cruiser Could 'Explode'

Russia's navy chief said Tuesday that one of the nation's most powerful ships, the nuclear-powered Peter the Great (search) missile cruiser, was in such dire condition that it could "explode" at any moment — a statement some observers attributed to infighting among the navy brass.

Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov (search) said that the massive cruiser had been badly maintained and that "it's especially dangerous because it has a nuclear reactor."

At the same time, Kuroyedov said that he had ordered the captain to fix the ship in two weeks, casting doubt on the credibility of his alarmist statement.

"During that time, the captain must correct all the flaws related to the ship's maintenance," Kuroyedov said, according to the Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies.

Kuroyedov didn't provide details of the ship's condition, but said the shortcomings also related to maintenance of the ship's nuclear reactor.

"Everything is all right on the ship where admirals walk, but in the areas where they don't, everything is in such condition that it may blow up at any moment," Kuroyedov was quoted as saying.

His statements were particularly shocking because the cruiser, the Northern Fleet's flagship, was officially named the best ship in the fleet last year.

The business daily Kommersant on Tuesday reported Kuroyedov's decision to declare the Peter the Great unfit for service and said it could have stemmed from his personal conflict with Retired Adm. Igor Kasatonov, uncle of the cruiser's captain, Rear Adm. Vladimir Kasatonov.

Kommersant said that Kuroyedov could be also aiming at the Northern Fleet's ex-chief, Adm. Gennady Suchkov, who had been temporarily relieved of his duties pending the official investigation into his role into the sinking of a decommissioned nuclear fleet submarine in August.

Kuroyedov sought to shift the blame for the sinking to Suchkov, but Kasatonov said during court hearings this month that Kuroyedov bears the main responsibility for the disaster, which killed nine of 10 crewmen on board the K-159 submarine when it sank in a howling storm on its way to a scrapyard.

Russian media also have criticized Kuroyedov over his role in the August 2000 sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine (search) and his failure to improve the navy's degrading condition. Many expected President Vladimir Putin to fire Kuroyedov, but he has managed to cling to the job.

In the latest blow to Russian military prestige, the navy failed to perform missile launches from nuclear submarines during last month's ambitious maneuvers personally overseen by Putin.

Kuroyedov claimed that the first of two scheduled launches had never been planned despite numerous earlier announcements to the contrary. The statement was widely ridiculed by Russian media.

On Tuesday, he said the second failed launch of a RSM-54 missile was due to its age.

"The missile was manufactured in 1987 and had a designated lifetime of 7 1/2 years," Kuroyedov said, adding that the navy now considers its RSM-54 missiles only 95 percent reliable.

The post-Soviet funding shortage has badly hurt the navy, prompting it to mothball a large number of ships and keep most others docked for years because of shortages of fuel and spare parts.