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

226820. Subject: Soviet Aircraft/Vlasova Case: Interview With Vlasova on Board Mobile Lounge, JFK Airport, New York City.

1. (C-entire text)

2. This message provides you with account of interview of Lyudmila Vlasova conducted between 3:00 pm and 3:20 pm, Aug. 27, on mobile lounge drawn up to Aeroflot aircraft at JFK Airport, New York City. Account was prepared from notes taken by EUR/SOV officer (Hurwitz) who was present during the interview.

3. Participants at meeting were as follows:

US side:

  • Donald McHenry, Dep. US Representative to the UN
  • Edward Hurwitz, Office of Soviet Union Affairs
  • Dr. Florence Kavaler, US Public Health Service
  • Jack Riccardi, INS
  • Orville Schell, Attorney for Aleksandr Godunov
  • Galina Tunik, Interpreter
  • Soviet side:
  • Lyudmila Vlasova, Bolshoi Ballet dancer
  • Yevgeniy Makeyev, Dep. Soviet Representative to the UN
  • Ivan Miroshkin, Soviet Mission to the UN
  • Vladimir Plechko, Soviet Consul General-designate, N.Y.
  • Vadim Kavalerov, Consular Section, USSR Embassy
  • Dr. Sargin, Soviet physician, Soviet Mission to the UN
[Page 637]

4. Account of meeting is as follows:

McHenry: (Introduces the members of the US side, describing Mr. Orville Schell as “a lawyer hired by Mr. Godunov”) We are sorry that this difficult situation has arisen. Our only desire is to ascertain directly from you, in an atmosphere where you are as free as possible from any pressures, whether you wish to remain in the United States or return to the Soviet Union.

Vlasova: My only wish is to return to the Soviet Union.

McHenry: I understand what you are saying, but I would like to make clear to you the possibilities before you. You are now in the United States under US jurisdiction. Should you choose to remain in this country both your country and mine will honor this decision.

(Note: The US interpreter translated the verb “honor” as “uchtet.” At this, Soviet Ambassador Makeyev interjected that a better translation would be the Soviet expression “satisfy your desire.” The US side had no objection to this version.)

Should you freely choose to return to the Soviet Union, your government and mine will honor this decision and satisfy this desire also.

If you wish to remain in the United States for a period of time, you can also do this. You cannot be forced to leave this country. If you freely choose to stay, you can go from here to another place and reflect further before making any final decision. What do you wish to do?

Vlasova: In connection with the situation which took place with Godunov, I expressed my desire to return home on my own.

McHenry: What do you mean “the situation which took place with Godunov”?

Vlasova: My husband was missing for two days during which time I had no news from him. I knew absolutely nothing about what had happened. He had given no warning to me. That is the “situation” to which I referred.

McHenry: I don’t know the background of what occurred. I do know, however, that you are free to do whatever you wish, as was your husband.

Vlasova: I agree fully that I am free to express my wishes and am now doing so.

McHenry: I could discuss these issues further, but have agreed not to do so. You have expressed your views, but I wanted you to know the full range of options before you.

Vlasova: I understand. But again, I am expressing my views.

McHenry: I want you to know that you can delay any final decision and that any future decision will also be fully up to you.

Vlasova: I don’t know why we are having this conversation. I had already expressed my wishes and made a clear announcement of my intentions.

[Page 638]

McHenry: The reason for the situation which has taken place grew out of our desire to know what you genuinely desired. This situation would not have arisen if we had not been told that you might have other views.

Vlasova: The only way I can prove this wrong is to tell you again that I requested to be sent to Moscow.

McHenry: I assume you are making this statement freely and under no duress.

Vlasova: Isn’t that obvious? Do I look to you to be under duress.

McHenry: Miss Vlasova, is there anything else you wish to do? Is there anyone you would like to see?

Vlasova: No.

McHenry: Again, let me express my sympathy for the difficulties that have occurred in the last few days. I hope you understand that this situation arose not from any malice on our part.

Vlasova: Well, I don’t completely understand why people were standing near me for three days with handcuffs and arms. It was for this reason I feared leaving the plane. If there hadn’t been this kind of scene, I might have been willing to leave the plane. I don’t know your ways of doing things, but I am not used to this kind of treatment.

McHenry: This would not have occurred if the “situation” to which you referred hadn’t taken place and if we hadn’t had a reason to believe that you might want to make other plans. I tried through Ambassador Makeyev to reassure you that there would be no threats to your safety if you had left the plane. Isn’t it clear now that you see our side that no threats are involved.

Vlasova: (smiling) Yes, that is obvious.

McHenry: I wish you a pleasant trip back to the Soviet Union. I only regret that I was not able to get tickets to see you perform here in New York.

Vlasova: Come to Moscow to see the Bolshoi. It is better to see us dance in the Bolshoi Theater than here.

Comment: It was the judgment of the US participants, including the Public Health Service physician and Mr. Godunov’s lawyer, that Miss Vlasova was calm, relaxed, fully in control of what she was saying, quick in her answers, and in apparent good spirits. There was no evident reason whatsoever for doubting that she was expressing her own wishes. The Soviet side gave no outward sign that they feared she might say, from their standpoint, the wrong thing.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, State Department Out, Box 117, 8/17–31/79. Confidential; Sensitive; Immediate; Nodis. 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 Gary L. Matthews (EUR/SOV); cleared byEdward S. Hurwitz (EUR/SOV), Shinn, and Seton Stapleton (S/S–O); approved by James E. Goodby (EUR/SOV). (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840142–2447)