MOSCOW: The sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine last week was yet another in a long string of disasters that have plagued the Russian military.
MOSCOW: The sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine last week was
yet another in a long string of disasters that have plagued the Russian
After five days of rescue attempts, all 118 crew members were declared
dead, and the government has been left trying to explain what went
The Russian media is crying foul, flinging accusations of lies and
cover-ups. The government responded by saying its sub fleet is grossly
underfunded and needs repair. In any event, the world continues to
wonder how such a tragedy could have been so mishandled.
’All the PR in the world won’t do them any good until they can put their
ships safely at sea,’ said Larry Smith, president of the Institute for
Crisis Management. ’There’s not much of a way to put a PR spin on a
situation that’s so dire to begin with.’
It’s estimated that defense spending in Russia fell by about 10% in
1996, to about one-sixth of peak Soviet levels in the late 1980s. Since
that decline, Russia’s sub fleet has suffered a series of collisions,
fires, explosions and malfunctions.
Now the Russian government is being sharply criticized not only for
letting its fleet deteriorate but also for waiting too long to accept
Smith said the Russian government could have managed the ordeal better,
perhaps by having Russian president Vladimir Putin appear on national TV
to express sorrow for the tragedy.
’They could have generated a great deal of sympathy if they had been
open and honest with the rest of the world,’ he said.
However, ’The military was true to their culture,’ Smith added, noting
that many of the navy’s top brass probably lied about the severity of
the collision to save their careers and protect defense secrets.
’The Russian government has operated like too many corporations,’ Smith
said. ’When they get in trouble, they try to stonewall it, to hide it or
at least cover it up.’
The Soviet method of PR - or lack thereof - doesn’t work today, said
Peter McCue, SVP and senior partner and director of the corporate group
at Fleishman-Hillard in New York.
’It’s a Cold War response in a post-Cold War world,’ said McCue.
’There’s still pressure inside (the government) not to reveal
In Russia, the PR community is mixed. Vladimir Pyzin, general director
of information and analysis at PR agency Emissar, said he thinks the
disaster was used to put pressure on Putin. ’Some of the media are
playing on the feelings of the relatives with the aim of harming Putin’s
reputation,’ Pyzin said.
For others, the incident raised suggestions that PR pros are badly
needed in Russia.
’That the rescuers could not cope with such a seemingly simple task has
given rise to two explanations among Russians: we have old and
inadequate training of personnel, (and) the military tries to keep its
secrets, regardless of human lives,’ said Mikhail Taits, head of the
analysis department of the PR agency RIM.
See editorial, p14.