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Russian Deserter Scales U.S. Embassy Wall, Crashes on Top Diplomat's Couch

March 21, 1997|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — A Russian army deserter scaled the wall of the American Embassy compound here and sneaked into the home of the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Russia, where he was found the next morning taking a shower, officials said Thursday.

The man entered the high-security compound wearing military fatigues earlier this month and spent the night drinking from the well-stocked liquor cabinet of Charge d'Affaires John Tefft, who heads the American mission in Moscow in the absence of an ambassador.

One U.S. official said it was Tefft who discovered the naked soldier in his shower.

The unarmed deserter surrendered to Marine guards without a struggle and was turned over to Russian authorities.

"The guy is a deserter, but he didn't mean to break into an embassy," said an officer of the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB. "He just climbed a fence he happened to stumble upon. He never ventured very far from the bar and the fridge and the hot shower he found."

Chagrined Embassy security officials would not discuss how the man was able to get past guards and break into Tefft's red-brick townhouse over the weekend of March 8-9.

Embassy spokeswoman Kathryn Sylvester declined to discuss details of the incident but read from a prepared statement: "He hid himself inside one of our residential units overnight and was detected the following day by the residents, who notified the mission's security force."

Sylvester said the man was never in a position to see any classified materials, which are kept in a separate building.

The American compound in central Moscow is perhaps most famous as the site of the Embassy building that was so riddled with bugging devices during the Cold War that it could never be used.

The complex also houses a number of other facilities, including two schools, a cafeteria, offices, a gym and 120 housing units for Embassy employees.

Some residents were alarmed by the ease with which the intruder scaled the wall and entered Tefft's home.

Russian authorities declined to identify the intruder or discuss the case. But the newspaper Izvestia today identified him by his first name, Vasily, and said he was motivated "exclusively by a desire to have a rest in a cultured way."

"He ended up in the apartment of this American diplomat because he was attracted by a rich choice of liquor in the bar, which he consumed all night," the paper said. "He was also attracted by a soft sofa, which invited a good rest."

After his arrest, the man admitted that he had deserted from the army. He has since been transported to a military prison in Ryazan, about 100 miles southeast of Moscow, Izvestia reported.

Army officials, embarrassed by Vasily's exploits, declined requests from Russian journalists to interview him.

"His commanders are afraid," Izvestia wrote, "that Vasya will become a legendary figure and an example to imitate for his fellow servicemen and for the entire personnel of the glorious Russian army."

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