REFUGEES: I Is Russian Pilot

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At Camp McCauley airstrip near Linz, Austria, a Russian two-engine light bomber bounced on to the field, overshot the strip and crumpled into a fence. Out climbed a handsome Soviet air force lieutenant, English grammar in hand. "I is Russian pilot," he said. "Where is Linz?"

Twenty-eight-year-old Lieut. Piotr Pirogov and his copilot, Anatoly Barsov, had been planning for a year to escape from Russia and get to the U.S. They had left their base near Lwow, formerly Poland, on a routine training flight that morning and headed for Munich in the U.S. zone of Germany. The third member of their crew, a flight sergeant, was not in on the lieutenants' plan. When they were airborne, Pirogov told the sergeant he could either come along or bail out while still over Russian territory. Since there were no parachutes in the plane, the sergeant elected to stay aboard.

"Forced Landing?" The U.S. Army was slightly embarrassed by its unexpected guests. Should they be returned as deserters, or kept as political refugees? At first the State Department ordered the men returned to the Russians, then changed its mind. After an all-night teletype discussion between Vienna, Washington, Paris and General Lucius Clay's headquarters in Berlin, it was decided, on the precedent of the Kasenkina case, that the Russians would not be handed over to the Red army. Colonel General Vladimir Kurasov, Russian commander in Austria, searched four days for the missing plane, finally learned its whereabouts. He demanded that the men be returned. Air Force authorities offered a compromise: Kurasov's representative could see for himself whether they were being held against their will. Both sides would abide by the flyers' own decision. Kurasov accepted.

He sent a tall, sturdily built Russian in the uniform of a major in the MVD (secret police) to question the fugitives. Pirogov led off with the statement that he wasn't going back to Russia until there was a change in the regime. When the major kept referring to a "forced landing," Pirogov corrected him sharply: "There was no forced landing about it. I landed on U.S. territory because I intended to. This was an escape, not a forced landing."

"Did I Strike Him?" After an hour of fruitless questioning, the major asked Pirogov whether he had given any thought to his family back in Russia. "I object!" an American officer put in heatedly. "That's coercion." "What do you mean, coercion?" the MVD man replied in an injured tone. "Did I strike him?" After an hour's argument over what constituted coercion, the major was finally allowed to ask whatever he wanted. He drew a blank.

Snubnosed, 31-year-old Barsov proved equally obdurate. For hours the major employed every psychological trick in the book to wear him down. Over & over again he made Barsov write his name, insisting that it was not really the way he normally wrote his signature. Then, playing his trump card, the major pulled out a letter.

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