Mathias Rust and Border Guards Day, 1987

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‘Border Guards Day – 28 May’

As my readers will have spotted, I am intrigued by the multiplicity of special festivals which were marked in the time of the USSR, many of which have been carried over, somewhat adapted in some cases, to present-day Russia.  May 28 marked ‘Border Guards Day’. Here are some posters from Soviet times praising the Guards for doing their heroic and patriotic duty.

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‘Glory to the Soviet Border Guards!’

When we were living in Moscow in 1987, we enjoyed several huge and spectacular public firework displays.  I don’t know where in the city the fireworks were set off, but we could usually see them, and certainly hear them, from the balcony of our flat in Kutuzovsky Prospekt. Invariably we had no idea what the occasion was that warranted these celebrations, but subsequently found out it had been, for example, Navy Day or Moscow City Day.

There were fireworks on May 28 and we discovered that this was Border Guards Day.

The next morning we learned via the excited talk around the British Embassy that the day before a small German plane had landed in Red Square. Everyone was incredulous that this could have happened  – both because of the surveillance of Soviet air space and the fact that there were overhead wires everywhere in the area – especially across the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky bridge, which brings traffic across the river towards Red Square and which apparently was the route taken by the plane as it came in to land.

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One detail that I recall now, so many years later, is that the Soviet militia had very quickly covered up the plane with its German markings. Even forty years after the end of WWII, it must have been a sensitive matter to see the heart of the Soviet Empire being effectively infiltrated by a German ‘invader’. The news about the event quickly went round the city and into the western media, but I believe it wasn’t reported in the Soviet press immediately. I do remember the joke going around that Red Square was to be re-named Sheremetyevo 3. (The two main airports of Moscow were called Sheremetyevo 1 and 2…)

According to articles I’ve read since, the pilot – 19-year-old Mathias Rust – was not aware beforehand of the significance of the date of his exploit. It seems that he was extraordinarily lucky to have chosen that day. Did the Border Guards really take their collective eyes off the ball as he was approaching, celebrating with too much liquid refreshment? Surely not. But one definitely lucky coincidence was that on that same day many of the overhead wires around Red Square had been removed for maintenance.

I’m attaching three different articles, one of which describes at length how Mathias Rust achieved this feat.  I find it interesting to read about why he did it, and about whether it turned out to be one small link in the chain leading to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia Beyond the Headlines

Air and Space, Smithsonian

BBC World Service News

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‘The skies of the Motherland are securely protected!’

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