Soviets Say Medvid Fell Off Ship : He Didn't Jump, Newspaper Says, Accusing U.S. Officials

Times Staff Writer

A Soviet newspaper charged Wednesday that U.S. officials "trampled on human rights" in the controversial New Orleans incident involving sailor Miroslav Medvid.

Rather than jumping from a Soviet grain ship--as American officials had contended--Medvid, 20, just slipped and fell overboard, the Soviet newspaper Trud also said.

It was the first Soviet account of the celebrated episode that began almost three weeks ago and ended with the Reagan Administration's decision that the Ukrainian seaman was not seeking asylum and that the grain ship could leave U.S. waters.

In another celebrated case, the Soviet Foreign Ministry called a news conference today for Vitaly Yurchenko to air accusations that he was abducted by the CIA.

Yurchenko, described by American officials as a high-ranking KGB officer who defected and then decided to return to Moscow, represents an acute embarrassment to the CIA and the White House.

Human Rights Image

Western diplomats said Yurchenko's promised appearance may be designed to tarnish the American human rights image just before President Reagan meets in Geneva with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev next week.

The accusations about Medvid and the scheduling of Yurchenko's appearance came as the Soviet media kept up a steady pre-summit bombardment of anti-American charges.

Trud said Medvid "lost his bearings for some time" but was pulled from the water by a U.S. patrol boat. It did not report the American claim that he jumped into the water a second time as Border Patrol agents returned him to his ship or the assertion that he struggled against going back.

The newspaper reported, however, that U.S. officials "went berserk" the next day, taking Medvid to a Coast Guard ship for questioning and posting 11 police agents on the vessel for five days.

A delegation from the ship was taken by police escort to a U.S. naval base and questioned for 20 hours without a break, Soviet Capt. R. Tkachenko was quoted by Trud as saying.

'Sailor Coming Home'

"The American authorities wanted to take our man away at all costs, separating him from his fellow crew members, from his comrades, to persuade him to betray his motherland," Trud said. "The provocateurs achieved a big zero. . . . Our sailor is coming home."

State Department officials said they questioned Medvid and he said he did not want to defect. As a result, he and his ship were allowed to leave despite efforts by a Senate committee to stop the vessel and summon the sailor for questioning.

Yurchenko, whose defection was confirmed by the State Department in October, shocked official Washington by announcing at the Soviet Embassy on Nov. 4 that he had been kidnaped in Rome, drugged by the CIA at a safehouse in the Virginia countryside and that wanted to go home.

The State Department immediately branded his charges as "totally false," but the case raised questions about whether Yurchenko had been a KGB "plant" all along or whether he had defected and then changed his mind.

A steady stream of newspaper, radio and television reports and commentaries targeted the United States for heavy criticism in recent days.

"It could be a barrage in advance of the summit to hedge against possible disappointments in Geneva," said one Western diplomat.

Expressing Outrage

For example, five national newspapers carried letters from artists, writers, academicians, workers and even schoolchildren on the Yurchenko case, expressing outrage at the treatment he allegedly received in the United States.

It bore the earmarks of an organized campaign, possibly to offset any accusations by Reagan of Soviet human rights violations during the Geneva meeting.

Tass, the official news agency, charged that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was trying to undermine the Geneva talks.

The Literary Gazette, a popular weekly, ran an article alleging that the United States violates human rights in many countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Grenada and South Africa.

'Broad-Scale Violations'

The author, Vsevolod Sofinsky, also charged that "internal life in the United States abounds in gross and broad-scale violations of human rights," reiterating familiar accusations about racial violence linked to the Ku Klux Klan, poverty and mass unemployment.

Izvestia, the government newspaper, printed an interview with Boris Raushenbakh, a scientist, who said Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative would increase the risk of accidental war by computer miscalculations.

The Soviet media also have been responding with unaccustomed speed to the President's speeches relating to the summit, frequently accusing him of distorting or falsifying the record.

At the same time, a lead editorial in Pravda held out an olive branch to Western Europe, suggesting that it work for detente with the Soviet Union regardless of what the Americans do.

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