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German Youth Gets 4 Years for Landing in Red Square

September 05, 1987|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A Soviet court sentenced West German pilot Mathias Rust on Friday to four years in a labor camp for making an unauthorized flight into the Soviet Union last May 28 and landing his light plane at the edge of Red Square.

After hearing the sentence, Rust, 19, met with members of his family in the courtroom. Smiling, he said, "I am feeling fine. The sentence was correct."

Rust's mother, Monika, kissed him and held his hand as they spoke quietly in German. His father, Karl-Heinz, and his 14-year-old brother, Ingo, shook his hand firmly. None showed any sign of grief at the outcome.

Rust was sentenced to three years in labor camp for violating international flight rules, two years for illegally crossing the border and four years for hooliganism. Under Soviet practice, the three terms will be served concurrently.

The maximum punishment would have been 10 years in a labor camp under a severe regime.

Least Severe Labor Camp

The sentence is to be served in a "general regime" labor camp, the least severe of four classes of Soviet labor camps. It was not disclosed in which particular camp Rust would serve his sentence.

The prosecution had recommended that Rust be sentenced to eight years and under stricter conditions.

Tass, the official Soviet news agency, said the sentence was final and may not be appealed, though Rust could be pardoned by the Supreme Soviet.

Some Soviet officials said they expect Rust to be released before completing his sentence. Four years, they said, is moderate by Soviet standards of punishment and anything less might have caused a popular backlash here.

In West Germany, the sentence was greeted with shock and dismay by some, while others showed little sympathy for the young pilot, according to news agency reports.

'Very Harsh' Sentence

Hans-Jochen Vogel, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, called the sentence "very harsh" and said he hopes that Rust will not be required to serve the full sentence.

The Bonn Foreign Ministry said it is awaiting a full report of the trial from its embassy in Moscow on the reasons behind the sentencing.

The conservative daily Die Welt said that by Soviet standards the sentence was lenient but added that "Moscow's decision will be seen in the liberal West as monstrous and dictatorial."

In Hamburg, Rust's former flying instructor, Werner Schultz, said: "Mathias did wrong. I don't want to minimize that, but I consider the sentence too high."

One of the Rust family's neighbors in Wedel, a suburb of Hamburg, declared, "The kid needs a good thrashing when he gets home."

Prosecutor Vladimir Andreyev had said that Red Square is "a sacred place for us," and Rust acknowledged in his final statement that he was unaware of its historical importance as a center of Soviet power.

'I Am Very Sorry'

"I am very sorry," he told the court. "I can guarantee you, if you give me a mild punishment, I will not betray your trust."

Defense attorney Vladimir Yakovlev asked for the lightest possible punishment on grounds that Rust was young, inexperienced and had no criminal intent.

But the presiding judge, Robert G. Tikhomorov, brushed aside Rust's contention that he was on an unannounced solo peace mission. He said the evidence indicated that Rust was simply an adventurer.

Tass commented that "all his conduct in his home country and after the landing in Moscow pointed more to his absolute political indifference rather than to his being a campaigner for any cause."

Rust's flight, across 500 miles of heavily defended Soviet territory from Helsinki, Finland, caused an uproar in the Kremlin. Defense Minister Sergei L. Sokolov was abruptly retired and several high-ranking military officers were dismissed for lack of vigilance.

Soviet Fighter Plane

Testimony at the trial indicated that a Soviet fighter plane approached Rust's single-engine Cessna 172 but flew off without taking any action. Rust said it was at that point that he switched off his radio, fearing that he would be ordered to land immediately.

Soviet publications hinted that Rust was testing air defenses along the western border or was sent to provoke an incident. But a three-month investigation failed to produce any evidence that Rust was a spy or working with others to embarrass the Soviet Union by making his flight on a day set aside to honor border guards.

"I acted alone," Rust insisted.

The presiding judge noted that Rust had prepared his flight secretly and had not tried more conventional methods to arrange to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev before landing in Moscow. He had claimed the aim of his trip was to meet the Soviet leader to discusss ways of ensuring peace.

"This leads to the conclusion," the judge said, "that Rust was motivated above all by adventurism."

Rarely Showed Emotion

Rust, tall and thin and looking timid behind old-fashioned, wire-rimmed glasses, rarely showed any emotion during the three-day trial. Once, while the judge was ticking off the violations of Soviet law, Rust was seen to swallow with difficulty.

Defense lawyer Yakovlev, in his emotional summation, described Rust as a good person who might have been naive in seeking to discuss world peace with Gorbachev and other Kremlin leaders.

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