Tired but happy, seven relieved Russian sailors returned to life after rescuers beat the clock on dwindling oxygen supplies. Asked if they had believed they would be saved from a watery grave, their commanding officer said simply: “Of course.”. They walked steadily off their rescue ship and were led away for medical checks. Things had looked bleak after their mini-sub became entangled in cabling 200 metres beneath the surface off Russia’s far eastern coast. Russian attempts to drag the vessel to safety failed. The situation appeared all too reminiscent of the Kursk sinking five years ago in which 118 seamen died. Finally it was a British unmanned vessel that cut the sub free. Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, overseeing the operation, clenched his fists in elation when it was confirmed that the operation had succeeded. He later made a point of thanking the foreign contribution.“I would like to thank our sailors, and all those who extended the hand of friendship. Firstly of course this means the British people and the British navy, but also the United States navy and the Japanese navy,” he said. It took the British robot vessel five hours to disentangle the mini-sub amid widespread concern that the submariners’ oxygen would soon run out. Russians have been following developments with bated breath. And while the outcome has been greeted with relief, opposition leaders said they would be challenging the authorities over the Russian navy’s technical preparedness and the competence of its leaders.