Moments in Time

The Trial of Mathias Rust September 1987

19-year-old pilot who flew his Cessna plane into Red Square

Rust had become an international celebrity following his daring intrusion into Soviet airspace and landing in the centre of Moscow, but the Soviet government condemned his actions.

Rust, a West German, had taken off in his aircraft in May 1987. He flew completely undetected through Soviet airspace and then guided his plane to a landing near the Kremlin in Red Square in Moscow. A crowd of onlookers mobbed the young man, many of whom sought his autograph. Soviet officials were less amused by Rust and arrested him. He was charged with several violations, the most serious being that he had illegally entered Soviet airspace. Rust argued that he was merely trying to promote world peace. He carried with him copies of a plan he had developed for a worldwide democracy, which he referred to as "Iagonia." Russian officials dismissed Rust's arguments (and his plan), and tried to portray the naive young West German as part of a larger plot to sow discord in the Soviet Union. More likely, the Soviets were simply embarrassed by Rust's flight, since it indicated that the vaunted Soviet air defence system was imperfect.


Around 7:00 p.m. Rust appeared above downtown Moscow. He had initially intended to land in the Kremlin, but changed his mind: he reasoned that landing inside, hidden by the Kremlin walls, would have allowed the KGB to simply arrest him and deny the incident. Therefore, he changed his landing spot to Red Square. Heavy pedestrian traffic did not allow him to land there either, so after circling the square one more time, he was able to land on a Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge by St. Basil's Cathedral. A later inquiry found that trolleybus wires normally strung over the bridge, which would have incidentally prevented his landing there, had been removed for maintenance that very morning, and were replaced the next day. After taxiing past the cathedral he stopped about 100 metres (330ft) from the square, where he was greeted by curious passers-by and was asked for autographs. When asked where he was from, he replied "Germany" making the bystanders think he was from East Germany; but when he said West Germany, Rust was arrested two hours later.

Rust's trial began in Moscow on 2 September 1987. He was sentenced to four years in a general-regime labour camp for hooliganism, for disregard of aviation laws, and for breaching the Soviet border. He was never transferred to a labour camp, and instead served his time at the high security Lefortovo temporary detention facility in Moscow. Two months later, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to sign a treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, and the Supreme Soviet ordered Rust to be released in August 1988 as a goodwill gesture to the West.



Previous 'Moments in Time'

Death of Diana
Resignation of George Tenet
Flight 77 The Pentagon Crash
The Assassination of CIA Man Richard Welch
The Yeti Conspiracy and the CIA
Checkpoint Charlie's Bay of Pig's
George Blake Escapes from Prison