We/Mbl, which labels itself "the first independent Soviet-American newspaper," was scheduled to appear in the United States and the Soviet Union on the American Independence Day -- i.e., yesterday.

But Hearst Newspapers and Izvestia, the founders of this unusual news experiment, have found already that independence is a relative thing. For example, you can publish a tough-minded newspaper, but if you have trouble getting it delivered, you are enslaved, at least briefly, by the delivery system.

Thus the dozens of Soviet and American journalists who have been working on this project learned the power not only of governments and publishers but of Aeroflot, which was scheduled to deliver 135,000 samples of the two-section, four-color newspaper on Tuesday to three Soviet cities.

By Tuesday, it began to look like Wednesday or Thursday. Maybe later.

So Tuesday night, Dmitriy Plesser, production deputy director of Izvestia, boarded a plane in Washington and personally escorted at least half of the papers to Moscow. More than 70,000 copies of the sample edition were in the belly of the plane, and Plesser carried an arm-load aboard with him.

"I suspect that Dmitriy is actually accompanying the papers to make sure they get where they are intended," said Hearst Foreign Editor John Wallach, one of the five founders of the project.

Thus began the first round of an ambitious newspaper happening that some call foolhardy and others an adventure. We/Mbl (pronounced "we/muee") was produced in Washington and Moscow, printed at a Hearst plant in Beaumont, Tex., and then airlifted back to Washington and the Soviet Union.

"It's such a crazy, ambitious thing to do, and there have been a lot of headaches and I'm sure some people will lose a lot of money on this," said Wallach. "But I think it's worth it, if for nothing else because we got a lot of American and Soviet journalists working together and struggling together to put out an uncensored newspaper."

Another founding editor, Anatoly Druzenko, deputy editor in chief of Izvestia, describes the project as "a professional adventure."

The idea began almost a year ago at Hearst, and last spring Wallach, author Jerrold Schecter (yet another founding editor) and Hearst Vice President Lee Guittar began working out a memorandum of understanding with Izvestia, the huge Soviet daily (circulation 11 million) that is published by the government. The agreement said that the two news organizations would experiment with a joint weekly newspaper to be produced together. Both sides would approve the copy and each organization would pay half of the costs. And there would be no censorship allowed.

What resulted is two colorful newspapers that are almost exactly alike except that 135,000 are in Russian and 25,000 in English. There are a few variations. For example, in the English edition, President Bush's message congratulating the journalists is ahead of President Gorbachev's. In the Russian version, Gorbachev's remarks are on top.

But if the finished product looks smooth and professional, the process wasn't. The Hearst people were worried about Soviet censorship, and the Soviets were worried about Hearst censorship. To produce a publication called "We," the Soviets and the Americans started out acting like "them" and "us."

"When we got together two months ago, the atmosphere was like nuclear arms talks," said a fourth founding editor, Sergei Dardykin, deputy foreign editor of Izvestia. "We were all old-fashioned; we were not in tune.

"Now, we are one team," he added.

One problem for both sides was an essay by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser in the Carter administration.

"It was a litmus test," said Wallach.

Wallach and Schecter, a former Time correspondent who was Brzezinski's spokesman at the NSC, persuaded Brzezinski to write a critique of the Soviet Union for the issue. Schecter explained that if the joint project worked for the Americans, the Soviets would not censor even Brzezinski's strong anti-Soviet voice.

"Our American friends decided that this would be some kind of test," said Vladimir D. Nadeine, Washington correspondent for Izvestia and the fifth founding editor. "But when we saw it, we thought {that} on a regular, normal basis, we should demand better writing than this."

The request for a rewrite was eyed warily by the powers at Hearst, but they said the standoff was ended when Brzezinski agreed to rewrite it. Twice.

In Moscow the paper is designed to be sold for a ruble. In the United States, it bears a $1 price tag. But the U.S. copies are mostly going out as promotional material, and the Soviet copies -- which We/Mbl founders predict will be sold out in anywhere between three minutes and two days -- should earn about 75,000 rubles, currency that is usable only in the Soviet Union.

"We hope to have a bank account of about 75,000 rubles there," said Wallach. "At that point, we will begin to negotiate a more formal joint-venture agreement."

If We/Mbl does well and the two media corporations decide to continue backing the union, the founding group hopes that the newspaper could become a regular weekly in both nations by January. At that point, the Hearst contingent and several Izvestia editors would start working on the project full time, they said.

Until then, there will be many hurdles. For one thing, the burst of press freedom in the Soviet Union has brought with it something new and a little threatening after all these years -- competition.

Will the Soviets choose We/Mbl? Are they getting plenty of truth from their own publications? Will the Hearst name, which for decades has stood for anti-Soviet crusades, scare away Soviet buyers?

"Thirty years ago when I was in {a Soviet} school of journalism, I heard a lot about Hearst," said Anatoly Druzenko, who was here for the launching. He smiled across the boardroom table at U.S. journalists as he recollected the Hearst flag-waving image in Moscow.

"At the time, even being courageous, I never thought that I would be part of a deal with Hearst," Druzenko said.