Commodore Stephen Saunders played down fears of a nuclear blast aboard the 25,000 tonne warship, after Russia's navy chief, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, said its condition was so deplorable that "it could explode at any moment".

"Quite what he's found wrong (on the ship), I don't know, but I don't think it has anything to do with nuclear reactor safety," Saunders said in London.

"It sounds to me like there are rather a number of safety issues which need to be resolved on board ... an accumulation of different things, rather than perhaps one catastrophic problem."

Kuroyedov said on Tuesday he had ordered the nuclear battle cruiser Peter the Great brought back to port.

"The ship's condition is fine in those places where admirals walk, but where they don't go everything is in such a state that it could explode at any moment," he said, citing the "upkeep" of the nuclear reactor.

The Russian navy is keen not to repeat the disaster of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk which sank in the Barents Sea nearly four years ago.


Kuroyedov did not specify the port to which the cruiser was taken, but it is normally based near the northern port of Murmansk, and Saunders believed that was where the ship would dock.

More money

Jane's Fighting Ships, published every year, is a highly detailed and authoritative review of all the world's navies.

Saunders is a former Royal Navy frigate commander who has also worked in the shipbuilding industry, defence consultancy and at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

"It sounds to me like there are rather a number of safety issues which need to be resolved on board ... an accumulation of different things, rather than perhaps one catastrophic problem"

Commodore Stephen Saunders,
Editor, Jane's Fighting Ships

He said that, thanks to the oil-driven rebound in the Russian economy, the Russian navy now has more money to rebuild itself after having fallen into a perilous state of disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"There has been a major drive over the last year to improve operational effectiveness, major exercises in all three fleets (Black Sea, Pacific and Northern), and a general back-to-sea policy," he said.

It was possible, he added, that by making such a sharp critique of the Peter the Great, Kuroyedov was trying to catch the attention of the Kremlin so as to get even more funds for his navy overall.

'Below standard'

Another theory is that the admiral has been making an example of the Peter the Great, or giving it "a kick in the backside," to warn other Russian naval captains they must immediately get their vessels shipshape as well.

On Monday, the RIA Novosti news agency quoted an unnamed navy source as saying Kuroyedov had deemed Peter the Great's "crew's performance below standard" after observing the latest manoeuvres.

The Russian military has suffered serious difficulties in maintaining its huge arsenal since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

It has experienced disasters due to poor maintenance and a shrinking military budget, leading to serious doubts about whether the once-mighty Russian military is able to continue running its massive military empire.