12. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in the Soviet Union and the Federal Republic of Germany and the Mission in West Berlin1

91843. Subject: Burt/Sokolov Meeting on MLM Incident.

1. Secret—Entire text.

2. Soviet DCM Oleg Sokolov called on Assistant Secretary Burt at 11:00 a.m. March 25 to give the Soviet version of the MLM incident.2 The statement protested the “illegal” activities of Major Nicholson and Sergeant Schatz and their supposed penetration into a restricted area for espionage activities. It claimed the sentry had fired a warning shot and killed the Major only when he attempted to escape. The statement included an expression of regret over the Major’s death.

3. Protesting strongly the Soviet action, Burt told Sokolov that the U.S. viewed the incident as a very serious matter and the facts are not as he described them. Burt recited the facts as we knew them and then emphasized that there could be no excuse under any rendition for the killing of the U.S. officer. He added that we were appalled that the Soviet personnel had left the Major for an hour without medical attention and allowed to die. Noting our efforts to improve U.S.-Soviet relations in this period of a new Soviet leadership, he said that episodes like this raise concerns in the USG that their inability to control the use of military force could again derail efforts to improve the relationship.

[Page 40]

4. Burt asked if the Soviets intend to make the fact that they regretted the incident public and if we could then refer to it with the press. Sokolov said they would probably publicize their regret at some point. He had no problem with our mentioning it. Burt warned Sokolov against putting forward their tendentious review of events publicly. He suggested it would be better to leave time for a thorough investigation of the facts.

5. The Soviet Embassy spokesman issued a statement at approximately this time incorporating the essence of the Soviet version—without, however, expressing regret over the incident. When we heard of this from newsmen, Burt telephoned Sokolov, strongly criticizing this action and informing him it gave us no choice but to publicize the facts we had. Burt noted it was particularly distasteful that the Soviet spokesman failed to express Soviet regret over the incident. Sokolov said he understood our concern and would ensure that the Soviet regret over the incident was conveyed to the press. At this point, the Soviet Embassy did express regret when asked by U.S. newsmen.

6. Burt then followed up with an on-the-record press briefing at 3:15 p.m., providing our understanding of the facts in the case.3

7. Following is the Soviet statement as given by Sokolov:

The Soviet side deems it necessary to call the attention of the American side to the illegal actions of members of the American Military Liaison Mission accredited with the Commander-in-Chief of the Group of the Soviet Forces in Germany, which led to the death of an American man.

On March 24, 1985 around 16 hours members of the U.S. Military Mission Major A. Nicholson and Staff-Sergeant D. Schatz in Car No. 23, despite the presence of the clearly visible warning signs in Russian and German, entered the territory of a restricted military installation of the GSFG in the vicinity of Ludwigslust, Schwerin area, of the German Democratic Republic. Having left the car and driver to cover his espionage activities, Major Nicholson wearing a camouflage suit and carrying a photo camera clandestinely, through a window of the building, penetrated directly into the territory of this installation where he photographed the combat equipment which was there. Caught red-handed by a Soviet sentry guarding that equipment, he did not comply with his demands stipulated by the military manuals of the USSR armed forces and after a warning shot while attempting to escape he was killed and driver Staff-Sergeant Schatz with the car was apprehended.

[Page 41]

The actions of the American military (similar actions have also taken place in the past) constitute a gross violation of Article 10 of the Agreement on Military Liaison Missions of April 3, 1947, which is the basis for the work of the U.S. Liaison Mission in Potsdam. Members of this Mission clandestinely penetrated the territory of a restricted military installation of the group of the Soviet forces in Germany for the purpose of obtaining intelligence information, they photographed combat equipment and did not comply with the legitimate demands of the Soviet sentry, which led to the death of one of them, and the Soviet side expresses its regret in this connection.

The Soviet side resolutely protests the above mentioned actions of the American military men and demands that necessary measures be taken so that the provisions of the Agreement of 1947 be strictly enforced.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850208–0948. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Pascoe; cleared by Niles, Strathearn, and Kornblum; approved by Burt.
  2. On March 24, U.S. Army Major Arthur D. Nicholson, assigned to the Military Liaison Mission (MLM), was shot and killed by a Soviet guard while on patrol in East Germany. In an on-the-record briefing on March 25, Burt explained that Nicholson and his partner, Sergeant Schatz, were on patrol in a clearly marked U.S. military vehicle, and both men were wearing U.S. military field uniforms. He continued: “When attacked, the two-man patrol was not in a restricted area, and no Soviet forces were visible. Major Nicholson had left his vehicle when he and his partner were fired upon at approximately 3:50 p.m. by a Soviet solider who had emerged from a nearby woods. They were not warned in any way before the shots were fired. Major Nicholson was hit in the chest by one of the approximately three shots fired by the Soviet solider. When his partner, Sergeant Schatz, sought to come to his assistance, he was ordered back to his vehicle at gunpoint. Several other Soviet soldiers arrived immediately and prevented the other American from administering medical assistance to Major Nicholson. At approximately 4:20 p.m. a Soviet solider arrived with a medical kit. No effort was made to assist Major Nicholson until approximately 4:50 p.m., at which time it was determined that Major Nicholson was dead.” (Telegram 89988 to all European diplomatic posts, March 26; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D850205–0174)
  3. See footnote 2, above.