He's the spy who came back to the cold. And just in time to throw a further chill over next week's Geneva superpower summit meeting.
As November snow flickered through Moscow's air, Vitaly Yurchenko -- the KGB ``defector'' who returned to the Soviet Union -- resurfaced at a press conference Thursday to elaborate upon his tale of kidnapping and captivity by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Kremlin spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko, sitting by Mr. Yurchenko's side, charged that the United States, by engaging in such forms of ``state terrorism,'' had forfeited its chance to criticize Soviet human rights policies.
It seemed a clear attempt to defuse the issue of Soviet human rights abuses before Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan meet in Geneva next week.
To underscore the point, Yurchenko's press conference was broadcast over Soviet television. His account, given in a two-hour briefing, led some observers' to speculate that Yurchenko may well have been a double agent from the start.
The ``captivity'' that Yurchenko described was odd indeed. He said he had played rounds of golf with his CIA captors, who coached him on how to improve his swing, and that he had dined with his CIA guards at restaurants and always had ``rolls'' of cash to pay the bills. He gained enough weight, he said, to have trouble fitting his clothes.
Yet he also described a trip to a private Washington medical clinic, arranged by the CIA because it worried about his loss of weight while in captivity.
Alternately fidgety and rambling, glib and emotional, Yurchenko's account seemed worthy of a spy thriller. In Moscow, the US Embassy refused to comment on it. But privately, Western diplomats were openly skeptical of Yurchenko's convoluted story.
Yurchenko denied any connection with the Soviet secret police, the KGB, describing himself as a ``counsellor'' with the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs who specialized in security of embassy buildings. He also denied that romantic entanglements had motivated him to defect or spurred his return to his ``motherland.''
A high-ranking Soviet physician, Nikolai Zharikov, flanked Yurchenko. He said that any apparent nervousness or lapses in Yurchenko's story were undoubtedly the after-effects of the ``psychotropic'' drugs that the CIA had administered to him.