U.S. Poised to Rescue Russian Sailors

By Almond, Peter | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 11, 1996 | Go to article overview

U.S. Poised to Rescue Russian Sailors


Almond, Peter, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


LONDON - The U.S. Navy is preparing to rescue nearly 2,000 Russian sailors suffering from a severe shortage of fresh water aboard the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the first Russian carrier to enter the Mediterranean since the end of the Cold War.

The mission reflects Washington's determination to maintain good relations with Moscow's military in advance of June's Russian presidential election in spite of concerns the carrier might disrupt the NATO peacekeeping operation in Bosnia.

Adm. Donald Pilling, commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet, visited the new 60,000-ton Russian carrier Monday and discovered the vessel had suffered a breakdown of its evaporators, which are used to remove salt from sea water.

The ship, accompanied by a frigate, a destroyer and an oiler, is short 250,000 gallons of fresh water and will have to end its flight operations and head for port if it does not receive help soon.

The voyage is the first major trip out of home waters for the carrier and is therefore of great interest to Western military intelligence. On board are six Russian flag officers, including the first deputy of the Russian navy, Adm. Igor Kasatonov.

The Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow says the purpose of the deployment is "to adapt to climate and conditions and to conduct continuous flight operations until 2100 hours each day." There is only about an hour of daylight in the Barents Sea at this time of year.

But Western naval officials are concerned that the carrier, equipped with SU-33 Flanker fighters, will take up station in the Adriatic in support of some 2,000 Russian troops assigned to take part in the NATO's Bosnia Implementation Force (Ifor).

The Adriatic is currently occupied by five NATO aircraft carriers, including the USS America, with about 150 planes.

"I would think that having them [the Russians] in the Adriatic at this time would be an absolute nightmare," said Cmdr. Richard Sharpe, editor of Jane's Fighting Ships. "Half-baked exercises in the Baltic don't make for compatibility with the Adriatic. NATO has enough problems there. If you add a Russian carrier, you have a recipe for considerable trouble.

"The Russians are used to rigid control, and whether they could work with NATO AWACS [airborne warning and control aircraft] is questionable. …

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