You might not know it, but the United States and the Soviet Union are still deeply involved in arms negotiations.
Senko, the attache' at the Russian Embassy, told me they have hit a new snag.
"Gorbachev is demanding a Cessna-free Europe," he said.
"That's unfair," I told him. "There is no way we can promise that. We can control missiles, but Cessnas fly anywhere they want to. It wasn't our fault a light plane took off from Helsinki and landed on Red Square."
"Comrade Gorbachev thinks the U.S. did it to embarrass him and cause trouble between himself and Raisa Gorbachev."
"How could we do that?"
"The pilot flew so close to the Kremlin he could see Raisa taking a sauna. Raisa wants Gorbachev to keep small planes out of her bathroom."
"If it makes him so unhappy why didn't Gorbachev shoot down the Cessna?" I asked.
"He would have if he could," Senko said. "The Russians are experts against a Stealth bomber, but our air defense is like swiss cheese when it comes to bringing down private planes."
"Then Gorbachev has a problem," I said.
"No, it's America who has a problem. We had the whole arms package tied up. Both sides agreed to give up middle-range missiles in Europe. We put testing on the table. We were ready to meet Reagan more than halfway. Then this decadent German youth blew up the whole deal. Now we don't know what type of weapons to ban in arms talks. Can you imagine what a chill this has sent through our crack Soviet Air Command?"
I asked, "How much damage can a tiny plane cause to a superpower?"
"The damage is in how we are looked at by the world. Not one Soviet fighter rose to shoot the Cessna down. No antiaircraft battery fired its guns. As far as Moscow's defenders were concerned the Cessna could have been flying the friendly skies of United."
"So what steps will you take to rectify the situation?"
"Gorbachev just made his air defense commander an inspector in a Chicken Kiev factory in Smolensk. All the men charged with defending Moscow have been stationed at 7-Eleven stores in Chernobyl. And several Soviet marshals have now been assigned to waiting on U.S. Marines in the GUM department store."
"Gorbachev has taken all the necessary steps. What more does he want?"
"The general secretary will not make an arms deal with the U.S. until you promise to keep Cessnas from using Red Square as a landing strip."
"Tell Gorbachev that we have no control over what our NATO friends do with their light planes," I said.
"He doesn't believe you. The comrade leader says the German Cessna could never have made it unless it had sophisticated American guidance equipment. Gorbachev believes you intend to violate the arms treaty with Piper Cubs."
"If he thinks that, where does that leave the talks?"
"Up in the air. The Soviet position has always been that we're willing to give up everything, except we will not permit small aircraft to land on Lenin's tomb. If we don't have guarantees we will break up the talks."
"If you don't guarantee us a Cessna-free Europe how can we be sure you won't build Star Wars?"
"Would you believe it if I told you that the landing of the Cessna worried Americans to no end?"
"I wouldn't believe it," Senko said.
"It was just a shot in the dark."