HERNDON, Va., July 17 (UPI) -- On Aug. 12, 2000, while firing a practice torpedo in the Barents Sea, the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk suffered an explosion. It caused the submarine, with a crew of 118, to tumble 354 feet to the seafloor.
As it tumbled, a shock wave was generated, knocking stowed equipment loose, causing injuries to survivors of the initial blast. Four torpedoes exploded after the submarine came to rest. While most crewmembers died in the explosions, 23 survived, trapped in rear sections of the sub.
Sadly, it would be senseless delays by Moscow in initiating rescue operations that ultimately would claim lives as well. This account of what actually caused the disaster would come not from Russian officials hiding the truth but from one of Kursk's dead.
The Kursk tragedy was a benchmark for the Russian people. It is undoubtedly remembered today in the wake of another disaster -- a flashflood that swept through the town of Krymsk in southern Russia, claiming the lives of 171 victims and destroying thousands of homes.
It is undoubtedly remembered as it demonstrates a continuing reluctance by the same leadership in power at the time of Kursk's disaster -- a leadership back in power today -- to honestly report facts giving rise to the cause of yet another domestic tragedy.
At the time of Kursk's loss, Russia was struggling with democracy, endeavoring to get out from the shadow of decades of Soviet rulers who feared truth. Kursk presented an early test as to whether Moscow was prepared to shine the light of transparency into the dark corners of Soviet disinformation by acting responsibly and honestly in officially reporting details in the wake of another devastating domestic disaster.
But under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent and aspiring autocrat who launched Russia on a journey to destroy its early democratic foundation, it was Soviet disinformation that dictated the "facts" surrounding Kursk's loss.
As such, not only truth, but human life, fell victim.
Initially, Moscow suggested Kursk experienced minor technical difficulties, later reporting an underwater collision with a "Western" (meaning "U.S.") submarine was to blame.
This claim was followed by Putin's refusal to accept offers by the international community to assist in the rescue effort. When priority should have been put on saving human life, Putin failed to do so.
Lacking an effective ability to rescue Kursk's crew and possibly concerned an international effort would reveal new Russian weaponry onboard, Moscow lost critical time, leaving surviving crewmembers to battle hypothermia and a limited air supply.
Among those initial survivors was Lt. Dmitry Kolesnikov. Using a page torn from a book and in total darkness save the light provided by the luminous hands of a wristwatch, he wrote a letter to his wife, detailing what had happened. It was found on Kolesnikov's body. His letter made clear no Western power was at fault for Kursk's demise and, contrary to reporting by Moscow that no one survived the plunge to the ocean floor, many had -- hoping against hope their government would rescue them by taking immediate and decisive action.
Indications are survivors scrambled to Section 9, the rearmost part of the submarine, where a few attempted an unsuccessful effort through the escape hatch. The remainder awaited the end, clinging to life, possibly for three to four days.
Failed rescue attempts by the Russians began on the fourth day, causing Moscow finally to seek international help. Norwegian divers entered Kursk nine days after it sank. Tragically, by then, Section 9 was totally flooded.
Sometime after 1 a.m. July 7, 2012, following a month of steady rain that was particularly heavy in recent days, a 20-foot surge of water crashed down upon Krymsk, at the edge of the Caucasus Mountains. It gave the 57,000 sleeping townspeople no warning. Not even the local warning system, consisting of a single bell, had been rung as the entire town became submerged.
As the sun rose that morning revealing the devastation, residents realized the flood wasn't caused by rain alone. In the mountains above sat a large reservoir, the flood gates to which had been opened to release water that otherwise would destroy high-ranking government officials' luxury homes on or near the man-made lake.
Private homes there included one of provincial Gov. Alexander Tkachev, who claimed floodwaters occurred when reservoir banks were breached, and one possibly belonging to Putin.
Witnesses later flown over the reservoir found no such breaches.
Tkachev, who had served as governor under Putin in 2000 and was reappointed by Putin's puppet presidential predecessor Dmitry Medvedev in March, recognized the need, once again, to submerge the truth about a domestic disaster for which the country's leadership had been responsible.
Tkachev's immediate action, after claiming the "breach" left no time for officials to warn residents, was to then fire Krymsk's mayor. Undoubtedly, as a Putin protege, Tkachev will suffer no similar fate.
Interestingly, while Putin's credibility has suffered immensely over the past 12 years, his popularity hasn't, due to an improved living standard during his "rule."
Unfortunately, the Russian people appear willing to accept dishonest leadership as long as they enjoy prosperity. Government officials recognize this acceptance, choosing to continue subverting truth to avoid accepting responsibility for their failures.
As the Kursk lay underwater, its initial survivors became victims of truth. Now it is the town of Krymsk that lies submerged under receding flood waters, its survivor's victims of truth as well.
How many more people will die before truth is given its due by a Russian citizenry choosing to hold an irresponsible leadership accountable?
(James. G. Zumwalt, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)