Following a deadly fire on a Russian nuclear submarine, Russian authorities laid the bodies of 14 naval officers to rest in St. Petersburg. The Kremlin has stayed tight-lipped over the incident.
Military police secured the historic Serafimovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg on Saturday for the funeral of 14 navy servicemen who had died in a submarine fire.
The event was closed to the press. However, several senior military and civilian officials were seen paying their respects.
"You have to understand that the identities of most of the people who gathered here are secret and their faces cannot be shown," a Defense Ministry representative told the AFP news agency.
Some St. Petersburg residents also paid their respects at the cemetery gates.
The naval officers died when a fire broke out on a nuclear-powered submarine in the Barents Sea earlier this week. According to the Russian defense ministry, the blaze started in the battery compartment and did not affect the vessel's nuclear reactor. The crew managed to extinguish the fire. However, 14 officers were killed by toxic fumes.
The Kremlin announced that a Second Rank captain, Dmitry Solovyev, saved a civilian specialist during the incident and managed to close a hatch to stop the flames from spreading. Solovyev himself did not survive.
Russian authorities said the submarine was researching the sea floor off the northern coasts of Russia and Norway.
Some of the details are "state secrets," according to Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Speculation on secret submarine
However, many observers doubt the government's account. Nearly all of the deceased are high-ranking and highly decorated officers, including seven Captains First Rank, two of which had been awarded the Hero of Russia medal. In the Russian navy, a Captain First Rank usually has their own command over a nuclear-powered vessel. Other casualties included Solovyev and two more Second Rank captains, two Third Rank captains, and a lieutenant colonel with the military's medical branch.
Also, while the authorities did not specify the type of a nuclear-powered submarine, Russian media reported the fire had broken out on a small AS-12 submersible, nicknamed "Losharik." The "Losharik" was designed to dive to extreme depths for research and special operations. According to media reports, the submarine can possibly be used to tap into, set up or even sever underwater telecommunications cables.
'We have started to lie less'
Talking to DW, veteran military journalist Viktor Baranets argued that the Russian military has, in fact, been uncharacteristically open about the event.
Sharing the information in this way "has never been seen in the history of the Soviet or the Russian army," he said. "We have started to lie less."
The fire prompted memories of the 2000 Kursk submarine disaster, when 118 sailors were killed following an explosion during military maneuvers.
Russian media reported that the 14 sailors were buried close to the Kursk submarine servicemen at Serafimovskoye cemetary.
dj/ng (AP, AFP, Interfax)
Emily Sherwin contributed to this report.