Bonner Accuses Soviets of Blackmail Bid

Times Staff Writer

Yelena Bonner, the wife of dissident Soviet physicist Andrei D. Sakharov, accused the Soviet government Friday of trying to blackmail her and Western leaders into shutting off worldwide public pressure for her husband’s release from internal exile.

The 62-year-old physician who was in the United States for almost six months for medical treatment, including heart bypass surgery, sharply criticized remarks made in Moscow on Thursday by Viktor Louis, a Soviet journalist who frequently tips off Western news agencies concerning official Soviet thinking.

Louis had been quoted as saying that Sakharov already could have been released from his six-year enforced exile in the restricted city of Gorky had it not been for Bonner’s rising tide of critical remarks about the Soviet Union during her visit to the West.

“It makes sense for him (to leave internal exile and return to Moscow),” Louis told Reuters news agency. “She is the obstacle. It is not his behavior. It’s hers. He wants a quiet life, but she would start calling press conferences.”

In Rome on a brief stopover en route back to the Soviet Union to rejoin her husband, Bonner charged that “the Viktor Louis material was blackmail.”


Visit to Thatcher

“What kind of freedom is it that punishes a husband for his wife’s behavior?” she asked. Earlier Friday, following a visit to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London, she emphasized the blackmail accusation and charged that Louis and the Soviet authorities also were trying to intimidate the Western leaders she has visited.

“This statement seems to me to be simple blackmail. They want to scare Madame Prime Minister by this statement,” she said of Louis’ reported words as she stood beside Thatcher at the prime minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street.

“Mrs. Bonner said it was blackmail,” Thatcher interjected. “We do not give in to blackmail. . . . I think that would be a reflection on the Soviet Union if they were to suggest that efforts from the Free World could jeopardize Dr. Sakharov’s chances.”

The 65-year-old physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner has been isolated in Gorky, banned from engaging in professional activities or to communicate with friends, since 1980 for his criticism of Soviet policies. Bonner was similarly exiled in 1984 after being convicted of anti-Soviet slander, and her husband had to resort to hunger strikes to force authorities to permit her to travel abroad for urgent medical attention. The Soviets allowed her to leave on condition, she said, that she refrain from publicly discussing Soviet policies.

She is expected to leave Rome for Florence following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, an old acquaintance. From Florence, she will go to the historic city of Siena to see her longtime eye specialist for a checkup, then on Monday return to Moscow, where she expects to be whisked directly back to exile in Gorky, according to one of her companions.

Bonner told a Rome press conference that her health had improved during the visit to the United States, where she stayed with her children and grandchildren near Boston. But she added that she “felt a bit tired” after the flight from London.