Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 167

The most recent episode of a serviceman killing his comrades within the Russian military stands out among similar incidents, which are occurring with disturbing frequency lately. Early Friday, a conscript sailor of the Northern Fleet killed a number of his shipmates and then barricaded himself within the torpedo compartment of his submarine. What made this incident especially frightening was that the Bars-class attack submarine (Akula in NATO terminology) was nuclear-powered and might have been armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes. The sailor, 19-year-old Aleksandr Kuzminykh, at one time threatened to blow up the submarine. He was either shot or committed suicide when an antiterrorist squad broke into his compartment just after midnight.

The military hierarchy reacted quickly to the incident, with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev dispatching navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov to the scene. The Federal Security Service (FSB) also rushed the antiterrorist group–trained for operations at nuclear facilities–to the site, near Murmansk. While the entire incident was tragic, it was the nuclear aspect to the episode that is most disturbing to many throughout the world concerned about the safety and security of Russian nuclear weapons. Officials were quick to point out that while the submarine was capable of carrying nuclear-armed weapons none were aboard during the incident. Skeptics will worry, however, that they well might have been (Russian media, September 11, 12).

An FSB antiterrorist group was called into action the week before when six sailors at a unit on the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya killed a guard and then took a number of teachers and children from a nearby school hostage. The island was one of the Soviet Union’s nuclear testing sites. Initial reports said that sailors had been guarding nuclear facilities. This was specifically denied by FSB director General Vladimir Putin once the six had been apprehended (Russian media, September 5, 7).

While it might be comforting to know that Russia has anti-terrorist units especially trained to deal with nuclear incidents, it is alarming to realize that such troops have been called into action twice in two weeks.