A Soviet ballet dancer whom the government newspaper Izvestia claims the CIA sought to recruit as spy during his brief defection last year to America says the allegation was fabricated with the assistance of the Soviet secret police, the KGB.
Yuri Stepanov, 33, who defected from Moscow's Classical Ballet Company during a January 1980 tour of Italy and then returned to Moscow after two months in America, said the newspaper falsified key parts of its account of his saga to make it appear that he was used as a pawn by American authorities seeking to discredit the Soviet Union.
His refutation is an almost unheard of instance of a Soviet critizen publicly complaining that words were put into his mouth by the authoritative government daily. Although warned against doing so, he initiated contacts with foreign correspondents to set the record straight. Sepanov was interviewed in depth by three Western journalists during the past two weeks.
Stepanov, who says he has been out of work since returning here April 2, 1980, declared he came back to the Soviet Union because he feared reprisals against his family, and not because life in America published eight days after his return.
Officials at Izestia did not respond to repeated request today for comment on Stepanov's denials.
The press department of the Foreign Ministry, informed of his assertions, said it had tried without result to assist Western correspondents in speaking with Izvestia editors.
Once a member of the world-famed Bolshoi Ballet corps de ballet before changing companies, Stepanov was one of six current or former Bolshoi dancers whose defections in 1979 and 1980 created an international sensation that damaged the Soviet artistic image.Though lacking the attaiments of defectors Aleksander Godunov, and Valentina and Leonid Kozlov, Stepanov told Western reporters his reasons were the same: artistic freedom.
Of the six, only he has returned.
Confession-style articles of Soviet returnes are used to paint the West, especially the United States, as filled with economic woe, crime, empty materialism, and "special services" eager to use defectors against the motherland.
Izvestia's story said "American special services" agents posing as international church workers quizzed Stepanov about military matters and sent him to the United States when they "decided they couldn't make a spy out of a ballet dancer and [decided] to use him for making propaganda."
Stepanov was quoted saying, "I'm absolutely sure [the church group] has a direct relation not only to God but to the CIA chief." Izvestia said he was exploited by unscrupulous capitalis, found other emigres had turned to drink, and finally returned from homesickness.
The dancer, a muscular man with dark blond hair and a boyish face, denied ever making such statements to the paper and said he never made any political statements in the United States for fear of reprisals against his family. He said he spent about a month under the tutelage of Yuli Vzorov, an emigre ballet school master who now lives in Bethesda, and then spent three weeks with the New Jersey Ballet, earning $500 a week, before his gnawing fears for the fate of his parents, wife, and brother drove him against his will to go to New York to ask the Soviet United Nations Mission to arrange his repatriation.
[Vzorov in a telephone interview confirmed that Stepanov lived at his home for about a month and that he helped place him with the New Jersey Ballet. "Then one day he simply didappeared," Vzorov added.]
Stepanov said the Izvestia interview was arranged by the KGB, and that a agent arrived early to tell him what to say, which he refused to do. He said the final story contained fabrications as well as information which he never was asked about by the paper and which could only have been drawn from his answers to agents who interrogated him when he reached Moscow.
"It was such nonsense that when people met me on the street, they said, 'How could you say such things?' I began to think of ways to refute the article and the impression it had left," he continued. "I felt badly about the Americans who did so much to help me and were made to seem like spies. In fact, they were very fine people to whom I owed something."
He said he felt especially bad about the paper's description of Vzorov. "He was a good friend and he did what he could to help."
Stepanov said the KGB warned him against contacting Western correspondents. We can break your legs, put you in an alcoholic treatment center, put you in an insane asylum, or just start a criminal case against you," he recalled them saying.
Despite this, he persisted and expressed satisfaction that he can set the record straight. "I figure, what they have promised to do, they will; do. At the least, they will kick me out of Moscow, [or] start a criminal case against me."
Of America, he said, "It was very good there. But if I hadn't returned, it would have been very bad for my relatives. I had an obligation to them. But now, I feel I have fulfilled that obligation. Now that I have returned, whatever happens, I don't feel there will be any repressive measure taken against them."
The Izvestia version had quoted Stepanov as saying when he got off the return plane to Moscow, "I hoped the motherland would forgive me. I was not mistaken."