Captain Sergei Pavlov, an aide to the commander of Russia’s naval forces, spoke at a funeral service on Saturday for the 14 sailors who died in a fire aboard a Russian submarine.
Pavlov praised the sailors for giving their lives to avert a “planetary catastrophe,” an eye-popping turn of phrase that directly contradicted the Kremlin’s line that the classified submarine was not involved in dangerous activities when the fire broke out.
“They all shared one and the same fate – to save the lives of their comrades, to save their vessel and to prevent a catastrophe of global proportions at the cost of their own lives,” Pavlov eulogized at the funeral service in St. Petersburg.
Russian media sources that carried his remarks did not quote him elaborating on what he meant by a global or planetary disaster. The New York Daily News noted that Pavlov’s commander was present at the ceremony and apparently did not object to his choice of words.
The Kremlin, however, moved quickly to dispute Pavlov’s characterization of the incident. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted there were “no problems” with the submarine’s nuclear reactor. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated the reactor was completely protected from the fire aboard the submarine and said the submarine can be redeployed soon with only modest repairs necessary.
Four of the fallen crewmembers were posthumously designated Heroes of Russia by President Vladimir Putin, the highest award given by the Russian state. The other ten were honored with the Russian Order of Courage for their actions.
The Russians have been extremely secretive about the submarine, officially revealing virtually nothing about it. Putin did not admit the sub had a nuclear reactor until three days after the fire occurred. The Russians have an unfortunate history of dishonesty when it comes to nuclear accidents that makes Pavlov’s fears of global catastrophe especially disturbing.
The Kremlin has deflected all questions about the sub and its mission by describing the information as “absolutely classified,” but have implied it was conducting a scientific exploration of the sea bed in the Barents Sea when the fire broke out on July 1.
Western analysts have linked the vessel to a secretive military project called “Losharik,” which involves using submarines capable of diving to extreme depths to sabotage undersea communications cables and deploy sensors that can detect submarines from other nations.
Ars Technica on Monday described the Losharik vessel as a submersible launched from a larger ballistic missile submarine to conduct deep-sea operations in the Arctic region at a depth of 6,000 meters or more. The Losharik submersible is controlled by a division of Russian intelligence, rather than the Russian navy, and is crewed entirely by senior officers, which would match up with public descriptions of the sailors who died as “unique military specialists” and “highly skilled professionals.”