213. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

223462. Subject: Defection of Soviet Ballet Star. Ref: State 222149.2

1. (C) Entire text.

2. Summary. Despite U.S. insistence that Lyudmila Vlasova, wife of Bolshoy defector Godunov be interviewed by U.S. officials before departing the U.S., Soviets sought to spirit her out of U.S. August 24 aboard Aeroflot flight scheduled to depart at 1700 EDT. As of 2100 local, plane still being held and Soviets have not rpt not agreed to permit Vlasova to leave aircraft for meeting with US officials to ascertain whether she leaving voluntarily. End summary.

3. As reported reftel, Shinn (EUR/SOV) informed Bessmertnykh August 23 that Godunov’s wife, Lyudmila Vlasova, must be interviewed by U.S. officials before she could leave the U.S. Soviet Consul General Kavalerov later advised Shinn Soviets understood U.S. had “a right” to interview her.

4. Because of concern Soviets might nevertheless seek to spirit Vlasova out of U.S., Department sought in concert with Justice to obtain legal means to ensure Vlasova did not depart without being interviewed by U.S. officials. Early afternoon August 24 Justice issued a restraining order to prevent her departure. Simultaneously, Department dispatched two officers, Hurwitz (EUR/SOV) and Smith (L/PM)3 to New York to conduct meeting with Vlasova today in event that became necessary.

5. DAS Goodby4 (EUR) saw Vasev mid-afternoon August 24 and reiterated U.S. position that Vlasova must not depart without interview [Page 634] with U.S. officials. Vasev indicated he understood, implying that Soviets would not attempt to circumvent the interview. Vasev repeated Soviet demand to meet with Godunov and stated again that Soviets could only consider Godunov’s request to meet with his wife at meeting with him, and Vasev implied that requested U.S. meeting with Vlasova would be acceptable.

6. Shortly thereafter, Department received information that Vlasova had boarded Aeroflot aircraft and plane was preparing to depart. Aircraft was then denied permission to depart JFK. Following arrival of Hurwitz and Smith at airport, INS officials repeatedly requested Vlasova be permitted to leave aircraft for interview, a request Soviets continued to deny. INS officials who boarded aircraft several times confirmed Vlasova’s presence aboard and large escort of presumed Soviet security officials.

7. In subsequent conversation with Vasev, Goodby charged Soviets with having violated clear U.S. instructions in seeking to spirit Vlasova out of U.S. and demanded that she be taken off aircraft for an interview. Goodby advised Vasev airliner would not be permitted to depart without such an interview. Vasev responded that U.S. had not only had opportunities to interview Vlasova but also she had been permitted by U.S. customs and Immigration officials to board aircraft and Soviets thus believed we had no objections to her departure. In subsequent response, Goodby pointed out to Vasev no U.S. Immigration and Customs controls exist formally for departing passengers.

8. We are at present at an impasse. Soviets are seeking by various means, including threat to halt tonight’s Bolshoy performance at Lincoln Center—to pressure U.S. to permit Vlasova to depart. Department remains adamant that Vlasova must leave the aircraft and indicate to us, in non-coercive surroundings, that she is voluntarily returning to the USSR before we will permit her to do so. Soviets refuse to agree. Thus, aircraft with passengers and crew aboard remain at Pan Am terminal. Godunov himself is enroute JFK and his lawyer, Orville Schell is already present. Makeyev of SMUN appears to be senior Soviet official present.

9. We will keep you advised. Assume that you and we will be receiving mighty Soviet protest very soon. US position is that (a) Soviet side acted in bad faith by reneging on its earlier indications that meeting with Vlasova was acceptable and that (b) in light of present circumstances, U.S. side must be able to interview Vlasova in non-coercive environment.

10. Please advise by Niact Immediate of any known arrivals of U.S. chartered aircraft since we assume some form of retaliation is likely.

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11. Leningrad should inform Charge Garrison5 of this immediately upon receipt of this message, and apprise Codel Biden6 upon his arrival. Soviets here are taking a very tough stance and, although we would not expect adverse actions vis-a-vis Codel Biden, this should not be completely ruled out.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, State Department Out, Box 117, 8/17–31/79. Confidential; Sensitive; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Sent Niact Immediate to USUN and the Consulate at Leningrad. Sent for information Immediate to the White House. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room. Drafted by S.M. Byrnes (EUR/SOV); cleared by Gary L. Matthews (EUR/SOV), Jeffrey Buczaki (S/S–O), and for information by James H. Michel (L); approved by James E. Goodby, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, N790007–0214)
  2. Telegram 222149 to multiple posts, August 24, outlined the defection of Aleksandr Godunov, a Bolshoi ballet dancer, and his desire to meet with his wife, Lyudmila Vlasova. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Policy File, D790385–0809)
  3. Edward Hurwitz and Jeffrey Smith.
  4. James Goodby.
  5. Mark Garrison.
  6. Joseph Biden, Senator (D-Delaware).