It became known about the death in the United States of the pilot Viktor Belenko, who escaped from the USSR in a fighter plane. He promised to meet in the United States with a journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda, but was afraid of difficult questions.
And he died, like many deserters, of alcoholic liver cirrhosis, alone and for fear of persecution.
BARTER AMERICAN STYLE
In the fall of 1998, one of the American military institutes invited me to a forum of military journalists. At the time he was gathering unknown details about the escape of Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko to Japan. One of the Japanese journalists (working in Moscow) told me that he accompanied Belenko during his flight from Tokyo to the United States “surrounded by CIA officers.” I remember this detail from his story: “On the plane, the Americans gave Belenko Russian vodka to drink and his tongue loosened. And he kept saying, “Well, what else can I tell you? You ask, ask.” And then he added: “Do you know about this? No. Well, then I’ll tell you.” From a Japanese colleague I learned that the deserter is in Colorado, at the United States Air Force Academy, where he “lectures” American pilots about the state of Russian military aviation and its military equipment.
So I decided to make a “barter” with the American institute: you arrange a meeting with Belenko and I agree to give my lecture at the forum. Well, as they say, they shook hands.
A week later I was in Colorado waiting for the meeting they had promised me with the traitor. I wanted to look him in the eyes.
But it is worth remembering at least briefly how Belenko became a traitor.
On September 6, 1976, Senior Lieutenant Viktor Belenko, pilot of the 503rd Air Defense Regiment in Primorye (Sokolovka airfield), flew to Japan in the then newest Soviet MiG-25P interceptor. He demanded a meeting with the US military. And he handed them the plane with all the secret equipment on board. And then he was transported to the United States, where he received political asylum. President Jimmy Carter personally signed his US citizenship permit.
In the United States, Belenko was a consultant to the United States Air Force. His military identification and flight log are preserved at the CIA Museum in Washington.
Japan returned the MiG-25P to the USSR, but the damage the traitor inflicted was colossal: the Soviet Union had to spend an amount equivalent to $2 billion from the state treasury alone to redesign the friend or foe identification system. Some other secrets were even more expensive. Another detail that characterizes the traitor: Belenko categorically opposed the return of the fighter to the USSR and advised the Americans to “keep the plane for further study.”
Pre-production model of the MiG-25P aircraft. Photo: RSK “MiG”
One day passed, a second, a third, I spent the expensive time at the Air Force Academy hotel in Colorado, and the curating officer who was supposed to arrange my meeting with Belenko began to “wag his tail.” Either Victor was stressed about the weather or he was sick. I then offered to arrange a conversation on the phone. Belenko refused. “Write your questions on paper and I will fax them to you,” the officer suggested. I wrote. About 30 questions. Another day passes. And again the negative: “Your questions are very hard, Víctor didn’t like them” (well, of course! For example: “Have you ever thought about shooting yourself?”).
Then it came: “I’m sorry, Belenko went to the hospital. For a long time.” And yet, the astute American officer apparently awakened the remnants of his conscience: as he said goodbye, he took pity and, with great confidence, told me that in New York there lived a man who “knows almost everything about life.” Belenko in the United States.” And he gave me his phone number. The next day I was in New York and met with the traitor’s “chronicler.” He even called himself “a great friend of the former Soviet pilot.” For several For months, John and Belenko lived on a ranch owned by a retired American general.
The documents of the Soviet pilot Belenko are now in an exhibition at the CIA museum. Photo: сia.gov
WHAT DID I LEARN FROM JUAN?
1. During the first year of Belenko’s stay in the United States, he gave “interviews” to the American intelligence services for 5 or 6 hours a day. And he received fees for it. At the same time, he was a consultant on USSR fighter aircraft at the US Air Force Academy. Including, of course, the MiG-25P.
2. Over time, the interest of the intelligence services in him began to weaken, they tore from him everything they considered necessary. Belenko then began offering his services to American intelligence agencies, but he complained that he was underpaid. And he dictated the amount of the fee.
3. They helped him get a job as a co-pilot on a local civilian airliner. He flew between Colorado and Cincinnati. And he told “friend John” that one time, in the uniform of an American pilot, he was going up an escalator at the airport. And on another escalator three pilots from the Russian Aeroflot were approaching me. Belenko said: “One of them seemed to recognize me and scalded me with such a glare that I couldn’t stand it, he jumped off the escalator and ran towards some kind of utility room. They’re hunting me!
4. The United States provided accommodation for Belenko, retired Colonel George Wish, who sponsored the deserter, gave him the keys to his Dodge Charger.
But intelligence surveillance on him did not stop. Belenko (he gave up the wife and son he abandoned in the USSR) married a Spanish woman, but the marriage did not last long. In addition, he became a heavy drinker, to the point that he was admitted to an alcohol clinic. There, doctors noticed his paranoia: he constantly complained about surveillance by “people from Moscow.”
They advised him to change his appearance: grow a mustache and beard and undergo plastic surgery. But she didn’t stop drinking.
5. Once a deserter had a serious accident while driving (he hit an asphalt roller) and, when he recovered, he began to prove in court that Russian intelligence agents gave him poison and cut the brake fluid hoses in his car. At the traitor’s request, the CIA staged his “death in a car accident.” An obituary was published in the press. And Belenko himself changed his first and last name.
GRESSION AGAINST BOSS AND REVENGE
After Belenko escaped, an official pogrom began in the unit where he served. Many pilots were removed from their positions and severely demoted.
And “to exhaustively study the personality of the traitor officer,” 116 people, including family members and colleagues, were questioned. Mountains of data were collected about his health, his relations with the command and his family, and his attitude toward Soviet power. However, there was no evidence of treasonous intentions.
1976 The wife of the pilot Belenko, who received political asylum in the United States, Lyudmila Petrovna, her mother Lyudmila Stepanovna (right) and the first deputy director of the press department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, LV Krylov during a press conference. Photo: TASS
Rumors spread in the West that Belenko was recruited by US intelligence before his escape were also not confirmed.
Everything turned out to be much simpler: the deserter admitted to the Americans that he had a strong grudge against those commanders who did not want to transfer him from the position of an instructor pilot (in a military school) to a combat unit. He though he wrote a dozen reports.
He even went to the school principal to ask him to be dismissed from the army. For example, he does not want to serve with commanders who abuse alcohol. When Belenko was finally transferred to a combat unit, commanders delayed his next military rank for six months. “After such harassment, I went crazy with anger,” Belenko confessed to the Americans. “That’s why I decided to take revenge for the humiliation.” And he began to look for an opportunity to escape.” By his own admission, a year before the emergency, he had a conversation “with a random fellow traveler” who said that the Americans would probably give a lot of money to acquire the MiG-25. “At first I didn’t pay much attention to this conversation, but soon a plan occurred to me. My flight time in the MiG-25 was already more than 30 hours. “I knew this car like I knew myself.”…
Another curious detail of the leak that was discovered during the investigation. Taking advantage of the connivance of the aeronautical technician, Belenko filled the plane’s tanks to the top and instead of the allowed half, he filled it below the neck. The technician was surprised: they said it was not allowed. The pilot lied to him: “I will fly longer so as not to refuel twice”…
AN END OF INGLORY
In 2000, Belenko gave an interview to an American correspondent at an air show in Wisconsin, where he made the following confession:
– At the show I met with cosmonaut Igor Volk. He says, “It looks like you died!” I said, “Not so fast.” The CIA spread rumors about my murder to deter others.
And now, in the fall of 2023, he died for real. For cirrhosis of the liver. Only two people followed his coffin: his sons Tom and Paul…