BONN — The Bavarian conservative leader, Franz Josef Strauss, flew his light plane from Munich to Moscow on Monday, engaging in his own brand of personal diplomacy with the Soviet Union.
Strauss, 72, piloted his Cessna to the Soviet capital, where he is expected to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev today, according to a spokesman at the West German Embassy in Moscow.
Often accused of conducting a private foreign policy, Strauss reportedly will ask Gorbachev to pardon young West German pilot Mathias Rust, who was imprisoned for landing his light aircraft in Red Square last May.
The Strauss visit underlines the increasing accord between the Soviet Union and West Germany that has developed in recent months, and which is expected to culminate with a Gorbachev visit to Bonn early next year.
But it also is being read here as an attempt to upstage Strauss' political rival, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, since the Bavarian premier will meet with Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze before the latter's scheduled visit to Bonn next month.
Kohl's Bavarian Partner
Strauss is chairman of the Christian Social Union, the more conservative Bavarian partner of the center-right federal coalition government led by Kohl's Christian Democratic Union.
A vehement anti-Communist, Strauss has been a frequent critic of the Communist state, and he was critical of the Kohl government's decision to scrap West Germany's aging Pershing 1A missiles to remove an obstacle to the treaty eliminating ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles signed earlier this month in Washington.
However, Strauss also has been among West Germany's first politicians to create personal ties and business links with East Bloc nations and China. Communist leaders such as East Germany's Erich Honecker and Hungarian Premier Karoly Grosz have made a point of visiting him in Munich this year.
West Germany is the Soviet Union's biggest Western trading partner, and Strauss is reported to be planning to negotiate deals for selling Bavarian high technology to the Soviets. He went to the Soviet Union as a guest of Deputy Premier Vladimir M. Kamentsev, chairman of the State Foreign Economic Commission, which is responsible for attracting trade.
Chancellor Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher have long wanted to create more cordial relations between Bonn and Moscow, but Kohl offended Gorbachev with some critical remarks made in a magazine interview.
President's Moscow Visit
That breach was healed with a visit to Moscow earlier this year by West German President Richard von Weizsaecker, whose diplomatic approach led to an informal agreement for Gorbachev to come to Bonn.
Strauss could bring off a public relations coup in West Germany by obtaining the early release of Rust, 19, who was sentenced to four years in a labor camp for violating Soviet airspace and making an unauthorized landing next to the Kremlin.