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On Kursk, a new caring Kremlin

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Despite harsh weather conditions, Norwegian and Russian divers have recovered 12 bodies from the submarine's rear compartments and yesterday breached the outer hull in a second spot. Last week's discovery of a note on one of the victims, Lt.-Capt. Dmitri Kolesnikov, raised public outcry by disproving official claims that all of the crew had died immediately.

Four of the sailors were given lavish memorial services on Sunday, with high-ranking government and military officials in attendance. In addition, the Kremlin has decreed financial compensation of 720,000 rubles (about $26,000) to each bereaved family, plus a free apartment in the Russian city of their choice.

By contrast, the parents of a soldier who dies in the grinding, 14-month-old war in Chechnya receive just 6,000 rubles (about $215).

"The [Russian military] tradition is certainly different than what we are seeing in the Kursk episode: more money, assistance to families, respect, and official attention," says Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military expert in Moscow. "The reasons for it are certainly political. The government and president are trying to counter criticism of their earlier behavior and have decided to buy their way out."

"When we first heard what was being given to the families of the Kursk officers, I found it a little hard to believe," says Tatiana Kruglova, whose son was killed in Chechnya earlier this year. "In no way am I saying it's wrong for those families to be treated like that. I just felt a little hurt."

Many families are never even told a loved one is serving in Chechnya until an official note arrives, informing of them of his death in action. "Sometimes boys come back in coffins, but often mothers have to travel to the military morgue in Rostov (near the war zone) to search for their own children," says Ms. Pantukhina. "There is almost no help from the military brass. One gets the impression the feelings of mothers are the last thing on their priority list."

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