A Catastrophe Casts A Pall Over Putin

The Kursk submarine disaster has abruptly ended the honeymoon Russian President Vladimir V. Putin was enjoying with the public. Before the Kursk sank, ordinary Russians regarded Putin as a can-do leader. But now begins a furious battle between Putin and his opponents over who gets the blame for the disaster. If Putin wins, he will dodge responsibility for the calamity--and may even turn the Kursk affair to his advantage as he seeks to outmaneuver rivals and push for reform in the hidebound military. If he fails, then Putin's authority may suffer a telling blow that diminishes his ability to govern.

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