Jogging with KGB: unhappy Moscow hits back for Olympics boycott
Concern is rising in the American diplomatic community in Moscow at what many see as an emerging pattern of minor harassments by Soviet officials. They range from travel restrictions to cars cruising slowly behind a jogging diplomat in Leningrad.
The harassment is seen as the Soviet way of expressing displeasure over President Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games and his other retaliatory moves against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.
American diplomats watch daily and carefully for any new signs of harassment. They believe that more may well be on the way, since a worsening of detente has been followed by such trouble in the past.
Some Americans in Moscow believe that Soviet officials might step up the level of harassment after the Olympic Games to try to get even for an American boycott.
The incidents causing concern are in addition to protests lodged last week by the US Embassy. Those protests involved three separate cases in which unidentified groups of assailants roughed up US tourists in recent weeks. One man's teeth were reportedly loosened. Other people were pushed around and beaten up.
Among the latest incidents involving Americans:
* One diplomat jogging on Leningrad streets has cars cruising behind him at jogging speed. Sometimes plainclothes officials actually jog beside him, jostling him from time to time.
* Another Leningrad diplomat finds cars boxing him in fore and aft as he drives to work, making it difficult for him to maneuver. The consulate has made repeated protests.
* One man with diplomatic accreditation has been refused permission by the Soviet authorities to make any trips within the Soviet Union, at least for the time being.
* US agriculture officials recently were refused permission to make a customary grain inspection trip through the Ukraine by car. Such trips are routine at this time of year. The officials had to travel by train, which meant they could not get out and walk into the fields. Nonetheless, they saw that spring was two weeks late in the Ukraine and that there are possible problems ahead for Soviet crops there.
* Embassy officials find that trips are suddenly refused to some areas of the country, including border areas in Central Asia, where Soviet troops are stationed close to Afghanistan. Other officials report unusual difficulty in arranging trips to Central Asia. Some have been refused hotel rooms outright and have had to sleep at airports.
Rumors have circulated in the US community that a car belonging to a diplomat was broken into. Later the report was said to be mistaken, but the wide currency it received indicated the air of concern here.
The tires of several cars in the parking lot of one compound housing Americans were deflated one night, though it is not known if it was harassment or simply youngsters playing jokes.
"We're not talking about anything major," said one concerned American, "but it is unsettling, and no one knows where it might end."
Soviet sensitivity about travel to Central Asia could stem from two reasons. The State Department in Washington has been turning down more requests than usual from Soviet diplomats in the US to travel to US cities. (This followed the Afghan intervention.) And this is the time of year when many Soviet recruits end compulsory two-year stints of national service by taking part in maneuvers.
Officially the embassy has acknowledged the three assault cases against American Jews traveling in the Ukraine and Central Asia. The roughing up involved six men. The embassy also protested what is described as the "unnecessary severity" of customs searches when the men entered the country on tourist visas.
Prayer books and Hebrew sheet music were confiscated. Sources believe the roughing up (once by a group of Soviets who gave the impression of being drunk) was intended to discourage other US Jews from visiting Soviet Jews. Sources saw it as a tactic that could be used more frequently as the Moscow games approach.
The US Embassy in Moscow has discussed the tenser air in Moscow in staff meetings. There is no desire to overemphasize recent events, but many feel they should not be underestimated, either.
Sources emphasized that in Leningrad, no windows had been broken, no pictures taken with glaring flashbulbs, no cars damaged.
In Moscow microwave radiation aimed at the US Embassy has not been used for some months. After reaching high levels, it was switched off before the Vienna summit last year between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and President Carter. It came back on briefly, but then faded away.
The latest incidents follow two articles in the government newspaper Izvestia alleging espionage directed from the US Embassy and a series of articles in Moscow and Leningrad about the Leningrad consulate. They cited US consular officials by name and accused them of unnecessary interest in the Baltic states.
The US does not recognize the incorporation of the Baltics into the Soviet Union in the 1940s.