September 2

This Day in History

Cold War

Sep 2, 1987:

Trial of Mathias Rust begins

The trial of Mathias Rust, the 19-year-old pilot who flew his Cessna plane into Red Square in May 1987, begins in Moscow. Rust had become an international celebrity following his daring intrusion into Soviet airspace and landing in the center 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 defense system was imperfect.

Following a brief and perfunctory trial, Rust was found guilty of violating Soviet airspace and sentenced to prison. He served 18 months. After his release, Rust enjoyed a short period of fame before he retreated from the public eye and became involved with several utopian and religious groups. The repercussions in the Soviet Union were more far-reaching. Dozens of Soviet military officers, including the defense minister and commander of Soviet air defense, were fired or disciplined following Rust's escapade.

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