Tim SebastianPutin's 'error of judgement'
Friday, 15 September, 2000
Russian President Vladimir Putin made "an error of judgement" over his handling of the Kursk submarine disaster, the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has told the BBC.
But he told BBC World's HARDtalk programme that Mr Putin had learnt a lot from the incident and said he had faith in Russia's leader.
The nuclear submarine sank last month during a naval exercise in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crewmen. The exact cause of the disaster is still unknown and Russia has been accused of too much secrecy during the failed rescue mission.
Mr Gorbachev, who resigned as president in December 1991, told HARDtalk's Tim Sebastian that even Mr Putin had probably not been fully informed.
"It seems to me that Putin didn't get the facts at the start of the crisis," he said. "The problem is he needed to intervene - and instead of doing that, he stalled for time.
"That was clearly an error of judgement.
"There was a succession of events. Putin made a mistake when he saw that something serious had happened - he stayed put and took no action.
"Only later did he go to the scene of the accident, he met sailors' relatives, tried to make amends. But he'd already made a grave miscalculation.
"It seems to me that since then he's grown noticeably older. It's been a lesson to him."
'Poor media management'
The events surrounding the disaster, when the Russian Navy gave false and contradictory information reminded him of the cover-ups of Soviet days, said Mr Gorbachev.
"I'd been through all that," he said. "Why do you think I pushed through the policy of glasnost and gave people some freedom?
"I used to say we couldn't have no-go areas for the public. That's what bureaucracy thrives on - lack of information."
Mr Gorbachev said August had been a difficult month for Russia and Mr Putin.
"The explosion in the underpass in Moscow, then the nuclear submarine catastrophe, and the fire in the Ostankino television tower - all this put the spotlight on some poor media management," said Mr Gorbachev.
But he expressed his belief that Mr Putin was a good leader.
"Everyone's got to live his own life and learn his own lessons, everyone has his share of failure and success," he said. "I think he's making some headway - handling the levers of government, sitting pretty confidently in the saddle."
And he said he thought Mr Putin, the former KGB agent who won a landslide victory in May's presidential elections, was a fresh start for Russia after its troubled history.
"He's different, he's got his own style," he said. "He is of a different generation.
"He's 47 - and that's quite a change from the old Soviet days. He comes from the provinces, so he's not tied in with any of the old boy networks in Moscow.
"That's an advantage on one level, but it's also a problem. It's hard for him to get his own team together, he's learning the ropes.
"And in a country like Russia, with so many problems, I think he should be given time."