Soviet soldier leaves Kabul embassy. Ukrainians protest return of sailor; neither issue to affect summit
Two poignant incidents involving Soviet citizens have caused a blip on the screen of US-Soviet relations. But neither is expected to affect the atmosphere for the upcoming summit meeting. The Soviet soldier who ran into the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, last Friday has walked out after agreeing to return to the Soviet Union.
The State Department announced yesterday that the soldier left the embassy with the Soviet ambassador after signing a statement that he wanted to return to the Soviet army and was leaving of his own free will. The ambassador also gave the US embassy oral assurances that the young man would not be punished, but he did not rule out a reprimand.
Administration officials are relieved that the incident is over, even though it was not of a political nature. The soldier, who had been on guard duty at Radio Kabul near the embassy and entered the US compound last Friday, was not seeking political ayslum, US officials said, but simply wanted to go home.
``We assured him he could stay as long as he wanted,'' said a State Department official. ``We asked him if he wanted us to get him to the US and he said no. . . . He was just a 19-year-old screwed up kid who was homesick.''
The affair could have created tension at the very moment that Washington and Moscow are stepping up preparations for the summit meeting. After the soldier entered the US Embassy, Soviet troops ringed the embassy, cut off the lights, and harrassed some embassy vehicles.
State Department officials said the troops have been withdrawn, the lights are back on, and communications have been restored.
The soldier initially met with the Soviet ambassador in the presence of US charg'e d'affaires Edward Hurwitz and a Marine guard and asked for time to weigh a decision, said US officials. In a second meeting with the Soviet envoy he said he wanted to return home.
Meantime the incident involving Soviet sailor Miroslav Medvid who leaped from a Soviet freigher near New Orleans on Oct. 24 continues to simmer. The US Circuit Court of Appeals here was scheduled yesterday to hear oral arguments in a suit brought by Ukrainian groups that seeks a temporary injunction to keep the ship from leaving the US, and to take the sailor off for further questioning.
Ukrainian-Americans are outraged at American authorities for returning Medvid to his ship after he told them that he did not want political asylum. Demonstrations were staged on Sunday in Washington, Philadelphia, and Chicago. More were planned yesterday in New York and Detroit.
``This is a bureaucratic foul-up and the State Department and INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] were negligent in several areas,'' says Myron Wasylyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Congress of Americans, one of the plaintiffs.
The Ukrainian groups charge that the US Border Patrol violated Medvid's rights in returning him in the private launch of the ship's commercial agent (from which he had jumped a second time). ``They had a vested interest in returning him because they handle the Soviet freighters,'' says Wasylyk.
It is also charged that Medvid had a right to an attorney when he was being questioned by State Department officials and did not have one. If the verdict of the circuit court goes against the plaintiffs, says Wasylyk, they will pursue futher legal action in New Orleans.
Two days after Medvid was back on the ship, evidence emerged that he did actually intend to defect. Irene Padoch, the US Ukrainian-speaking interpreter who interviewed him by telephone after he jumped ship, said Medvid ``absolutely'' wanted to stay in the US.
State Department officials say they had no choice but to return Medvid to his ship when, questioned in a ``noncoercive environment,'' he insisted he wanted to go home. They maintain that the decision had nothing to do with the summit and that, if Medvid had asked for political asylum, the US would have hung tough no matter how irritated Moscow became.
``The thought of what this would do to the summit atmosphere did not enter anyone's mind,'' says one State Department official. ``We stepped on Soviet toes to get him off the boat.''
It is assumed Medvid was subjected to psychological and other pressures after he was first returned to his ship. This would account for his sedated state when US authorities examined him. The White House said last week the matter was closed.