If Vladimir Putin had an escutcheon, the Kursk affair would be its only blot. The Kursk is the nuclear-power submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000, killing the 118 officers and men on board. Putin was on a Black Sea vacation when the disaster occurred, and television images that juxtaposed his jet-ski exuberance with sailors’ waiting wives left him embarrassed and enraged. He has been making amends and getting even ever since.

In the past year and a half, he has raised the Kursk from the seabed, met with the widows of the crew, taken control of the ORT and NTV television stations that ran the jet-ski pictures, fired or demoted fourteen senior naval officers involved with the affair and its aftermath, and ordered detailed investigations of every aspect of the incident.

Two of the investigators, Navy Commander in Chief Vladimir Kuroyedov and Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, revealed their results at a press conference February 18. They debunked the theory put forward by Navy and Defense Ministry brass, that the Kursk collided with a foreign vessel, most likely American or British. (The USS Memphis, which underwent repair in Norway shortly after the Kursk sank, was often cited.) They dismissed as well the idea that an errant torpedo from the Russian cruiser Peter the Great might have been responsible. A malfunction in a torpedo on board the Kursk itself, they suggested, was the most likely cause. Kuroyedov said the 65-76 Kit torpedo, designed in 1957, should have been removed from service years ago. A definitive explanation may follow examination of the bow of the Kursk, which salvage workers hope to raise this spring.

In the days following this press conference, Putin demoted Ilya Klebanov, the deputy prime minister who had been in charge of the follow-up to the sinking of the Kursk. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov dispersed Klebanov’s responsibilities among others in the cabinet in a portfolio shuffle that left Kasyanov himself in charge of the money-making Customs Committee and State Property Fund.

Putin cited the Kursk in a broader indictment of military leadership delivered at a cabinet meeting last February 18, the same day as the Kuroyedov-Ustinov press conference. Press reports of the meeting say Putin also complained that the “problems and scandals” of last month’s power cutoffs to military installations with unpaid bills and rising arrearages in soldiers’ pay and pensions “could have been avoided.” Putin gave Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, his old friend and confidant, a public scolding.

But Putin’s hard target may be the old-timers in the general staff. Since July 2000, when he muzzled Army Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, Putin has not concealed his displeasure with generals who grumble and stall and snipe at his plans to change doctrine, reduce manpower levels, raise pay and cut perks, and move toward an all-volunteer force.

Now Putin supporters in the Duma have arranged for Sergei Stepashin, the Putin ally who heads the legislature’s Audit Chamber, to investigate suspected misappropriation of Defense Ministry funds since 1997. Stepashin’s accountants will also examine what happened to money paid to the Military Space Forces over the last couple of years for commercial space launch services. The investigations won’t do much for morale, but may do wonders for discipline.