Another Fool

Southeast of Red Square, beneath the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower, is an ornate onion-domed Cathedral named for Saint Basil, the Holy Fool. Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on May 28, 1987, worshippers leaving the evening Liturgy services were stunned to see a little white airplane taxiing slowly across the bridge out front. The Cessna displayed a German flag on its tail as it rolled past the Cathedral and came to a stop about 100 yards from Red Square. The propeller ground down and choked with a loud smoky pop and the pilot-side door swung open. A very young looking man with a mat of thick black hair and wearing tear-shaped glasses hopped out onto the cobblestones. He stood with his hand on the door looking around strangely.

At first, passersby just stopped and stared for a few seconds before hurrying away. It was an uncertain time in the paranoid state and it was probably none of their business. But eventually, one by one, they began to approach. The pilot spoke a little Russian and chatted some with the interested onlookers. Someone soon called the police and within no time, the entire area had been cordoned off. Crowds lined the barricades to get a glimpse of the skinny little chastnik who was causing such a ruckus. Agents from the Ninth Directorate of the KGB arrived and had the now-terrified youth spirited away. “Heads are going to roll for this …” they whispered to each other.

Instantaneously, the story of the foolish diplomatic stunt of the foolish Mathias Rust was making its way through intelligence circles across the globe. Worse for the vaunted Soviet Air Defense though, was that they looked the bigger fools. The smooth-faced teenager had delivered something more explosive than a bomb quite literally on the doorstep of the Kremlin – humiliation.

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