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Putin confers posthumous honors on sub’s sailors

SHARE Putin confers posthumous honors on sub’s sailors

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin conferred posthumous state honors Saturday on the 118 men who died aboard the Kursk, two weeks after the nuclear submarine sank in an accident that shocked the country.

The Hero of Russia order, one of the country's highest honors, was awarded to the submarine's commander, Capt. Gennady Lyachin. The Order of Courage was awarded to the others, news agencies reported, citing the presidential press service.

Putin also ordered that the crew, whose bodies still lie at the bottom of the Barents Sea, be commemorated with a display at the Central Military Museum in Moscow, the reports said.

The order came as the country grapples with the loss of one of Russia's most modern navy vessels.

Military prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into allegations that the Kursk collided with an unidentified vessel that later escaped, the Interfax news agency reported Saturday. Citing unidentified sources, Interfax said the prosecutors believe the vessel violated safety rules and was directly responsible for the sinking of the Kursk.

A spokesman at the military prosecutor's office could not confirm the report Saturday. An investigation by the prosecutor-general's office had been announced.

Russian experts have not conclusively determined what was responsible for two explosions aboard the Kursk, which went down Aug. 12 during military exercises in the Barents. Military officials claim the most likely scenario was that the Kursk collided with another vessel, most likely a foreign submarine.

Both Britain and the United States denied their submarines collided with the Kursk.

Interfax said the alleged vessel was being investigated for "violation of safety rules in the movement and use of rail, air or water transport, which resulted in the death of two or more people because of carelessness."

Some observers say the most likely reason for the sinking was an internal malfunction and explosion in the submarine's torpedo compartment. Russian officials also have not ruled out the possibility that the Kursk hit a World War II-era mine.

The cause of the disaster probably won't be known until experts study the shattered submarine more closely to see if it can be raised. Russia is negotiating with Norwegian and Dutch companies to bring up the wreckage.

Russian officials have sought to quash concern around the world over the Kursk's two nuclear reactors. Officials say there is no sign of unusual radiation levels around the submarine, but there is growing concern that the reactors are not safe and may begin leaking.

Many Russians accused the government of being slow to react to the sinking and of bungling rescue efforts. Some observers have said the allegation that a foreign vessel was responsible for the disaster is an attempt to deflect blame away from faults within Russia's poorly maintained and cash-strapped armed forces.

During several days of attempts by Russian mini-submarines to dock with the sunken Kursk's aft escape hatch, officials said the hatch was severely damaged. But a Norwegian-British team of divers that eventually succeeded in opening the hatch said it was in good shape.

"There was evidence of what looked liked cracking, but it turned out to be signs of regular movement of the rubber panels ... and that could be construed as damage," one of the divers, Tony Scott, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

"When the Russians were performing their operations in the beginning, I think the conditions were a lot different and there was less visibility," he said by telephone from Tromsoe, Norway.