In a display of glasnost and good will, three Soviet warships will dock at San Diego Naval Station July 31 for an unprecedented five-day visit to the West Coast.
The visit of Soviet conventionally powered ships, laden with several hundred sailors, represents the second round of a naval exchange agreement that officials hope will further warm relations between the two countries.
“The primary purpose of the visit is to provide navy-to-navy interaction, which will result in increased professional understanding and cultural awareness,” according to a recently issued Navy document.
Navy officials, who declined to discuss the visit until it is officially announced Wednesday, said they hope the Soviets will better understand the “professionalism, pride, and quality of life” of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Though the visit has been planned for months, U.S. and Soviet officials had decided to postpone announcements until after the recent summit talks between presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, “because of the upheaval in the Soviet Union,” a Navy official said.
Two Soviet destroyers, the General Vinogradov and Sovremenny, and the support tanker Argun will probably be the ships selected to sail the roughly 6,000-mile voyage. Soviet officials, however, have changed the ship selection several times and may do so again, Navy officials caution. A group of 145 Soviets, including officials, band members, a soccer and volleyball team, and a song and dance troupe will accompany the sailors.
Once the ships reach shore, the visitors and hosts will offer each other snapshots of their homeland cultures. The Soviets are prepared to play ball and music, as well as sing and dance. And Navy officials hope to take their guests to Sea World, the zoo and Camp Pendleton for a barbecue and rodeo. The itinerary has not been finished, officials said.
The visit is part of an exchange program established by Adm. William Crowe, former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marshal Sergie Akhromeyev, former Soviet chief of staff. Last July, the Soviet navy visited a U.S. naval base in Norfolk, Va. The following month, the U.S. Navy visited Sevastopol in the Crimea.
The Soviets are expected to reciprocate San Diego’s hospitality in September when three U.S. Navy ships visit Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East.
In San Diego, Pacific Fleet Commander-in-Chief Adm. Charles Larson will host his Soviet guests. And his Soviet counterpart, Adm. G.A. Khuatov, commander of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, is expected to head the flotilla of three vessels as they sail.
Three U.S. Navy vessels have also been selected to be host ships. Those ships will be the guided missile cruiser Leahy, the destroyer Merrill, and the guided missile frigate McClusky. Soviet sailors will be permitted aboard the vessels, and U.S. sailors can board those of their guests.
Local political activists welcomed the visit, saying such exchanges could only improve relations between the two superpowers.
“The exchange that we can promote between the two countries, at any level, is wonderful,” said Theresa Picado, a spokeswoman for Mothers Embracing Nuclear Disarmament. “We have to adopt a policy of international goodwill and cooperation--we don’t have a choice anymore if we are going to preserve the planet.”
Still others see the visit as a yardstick to measure the progress in the warming relations between the two countries.
“Given the level of fear there has been in the past and the general Cold War mentality, having ships visit us demonstrates how the situation has changed,” said Carol Jahnkow, director of the Peace Resource Center, an educational group. “A year ago, people might have expressed more concern. This shows how far we’ve come.”