YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Reagan Blinked in First Confrontation With KGB

December 07, 1985

In his first, real eye-to-eye confrontation with the Soviet KGB on American soil, President Ronald Reagan blinked and the Soviets laughed.

As the President entertained Prince Charles and Princess Diana at a "glitz and glamour" White House reception, Ukrainian seaman Miroslav Medvid, drugged and beaten, lay, no doubt, shackled in the damp, dark hold of the Marshal Koniev as it made its way toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The man who ordered the interception of an Egyptian airliner carrying Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists in international air space was afraid to intercept a Soviet grain ship carrying KGB terrorists in the Mississippi River.

It is clear that Medvid wanted to defect. His intentions were stated most eloquently when he jumped ship twice. His wishes were confirmed by Irene Padoch, the only Ukrainian-American allowed to interview him in his native language.

It is also clear that the Departments of Justice and State bungled Medvid's initial attempts to escape to freedom. Even Secretary of State George P. Shultz admitted that.

What is incomprehensible is why the White House, ignoring the entreaties of 46 U.S. senators, tolerated the outrages perpetrated against Medvid, stonewalled the American people, and permitted a mistake to deteriorate into a catastrophe.

Testimony presented before House and Senate subcommittees investigating the Medvid affair indicated that immediately after his second attempt to defect Medvid was dragged, kicking and screaming, from American soil by Soviet seamen led by Americans hired by our government. Why was this kidnaping permitted?

In a statement to Ukrainian Americans attending a pre-summit briefing by the State Department following Medvid's third return to American soil, Ambassador John Matlock assured those present that Medvid would be interviewed in "a safe, American environment." This never happened. According to testimony presented during the congressional hearings, there was a Soviet presence at all times--even when Medvid was asleep. At no time during his interview was Medvid allowed to speak Ukrainian. According to Maj. William M. Hunt III, the American psychiatrist who examined Medvid at this time, the seaman had attempted suicide after being returned a second time. Hunt also reported that Medvid was drugged and probably threatened with retaliation against his family if he elected to defect. With KGB operatives near by, Medvid then stated his desire to return to the U.S.S.R.

Our courts have ruled on this type of coercion many times. Under our law, no man or woman may be compelled to do something against his will without due process. Our courts have also ruled that any person in the United States, regardless of his nationality or the manner of his arrival, is entitled to the full protection of our laws. Why did the White House permit such an egregious violation of Medvid's civil rights and why did the Justice Department fight so vigorously to prevent the Ukrainian American Bar Assn. from obtaining relief through the courts? Why did the U.S. government argue that further interviews with Medvid constituted a "national security risk?"

How sad it is that Ronald Reagan, a man who built his political career on bashing Bolsheviks and State Department bureaucrats, should be so easily deceived by both in the waning years of what was a comparatively successful administration.

If Ronald Reagan hoped to gain favor with the Soviets by allowing them to shanghai Medvid, he erred grievously. The Soviets respect strength and they test our resolve before every summit.

Mikhail Gorbachev is no fool. He knows exactly what happened to Medvid on the Mississippi even if Reagan pretends otherwise. Gorbachev now knows that contrary to White House press buildups, Reagan is no "Rambo." On the contrary, our President headed for the summit looking more and more like a wimp.


De Kalb, Ill.

Kuropas, a White House aide in the Ford Administration, is national ethnic liaison for Americans for Human Rights in Ukraine and a public school teacher in De Kalb.

Los Angeles Times Articles