Asylum-seekers are likely to be returned to Soviet Union Bush administration seen reluctant to complicate ties with Moscow.

July 24, 1991|By Elisha King | Elisha King,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin contributed to this story.

The Soviet sailors who jumped ship in Baltimore this week to seek asylum in the United States are likely to be denied help, international law analysts say.

"My gut feeling is that these seamen will be returned to the Soviet Union," said Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, a public policy institution that researches and analyzes international news.

"The Bush administration, like the Reagan administration in its later years, is reluctant to complicate U.S.-Soviet relations by accepting highly visible defectors," Gaffney said. He cited C 1985 case in which a Soviet sailor jumped ship in New Orleans and was later turned over to the Soviet Union by U.S. immigration officials.

In Baltimore, officials at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service are refusing to comment on the status of the two Soviet sailors, Alexei Litovko and Pyotr Zolotorev, who sought asylum at their downtown office Monday afternoon, and a third sailor who left a merchant ship yesterday.

Litovko and Zolotorev abandoned the training ship Kruzenshtern while it was docked along the west wall of the Inner Harbor. The vessel, which left the harbor yesterday morning without the two cadets, had been open to visitors during its five-day goodwill visit.

Southeastern District police said a third Soviet crew member jumped ship yesterday, leaving the freighter M.V. Leonid Leonidov while it was docked at the foot of Clinton Street.

Police said seaman Viktor Orshichovsky, 37, went to the Rukert Terminal Corp. in the 2000 block of S. Clinton St. to request a job and political asylum before the Leonidov sailed at 1 p.m. yesterday.

Orshichovsky was released by company officials into custody of INS agents.

City police said last night the Orshichovsky matter is in the hands of the INS and is a federal matter.

An INS spokesman said that all asylum cases are confidential, because applicants may fear persecution from their government.

"There's a tragic precedent for such seamen to have their applications for asylum rejected," Gaffney said. "I don't know for certain, but I don't think they'll be accepted."

Although the Soviet Union has undergone tremendous political change during the past few years, it is a popular misconception that emigrating from the country now is easy, Gaffney said.

"Depending on who you are, there is still a great deal of bureaucratic red tape to get through before you can even get an application," said Leigh LaMora, director of communications at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington group of foreign policy specialists.

Though Soviet citizens who were previously forbidden from leaving their country are now permitted to apply for emigration, the government's new system of reviewing applications has made leaving the country more difficult than before the system was developed.

Recent legislation passed in the Soviet Union has set up a system that causes people to wait years before their applications are even considered, analysts say. Before the bureaucracy was established, applications were usually reviewed in a few months' time, Gaffney said.

"The ostensible purpose of the legislation was to move the Soviet Union forward in the direction of honoring one of the fundamental human rights of all time -- allowing a citizen to leave his country," Gaffney said.

"Ironically, the legislation has made it more difficult for citizens to leave the country because it requires passports that still need to printed, and it requires people to go through a bureaucracy that really gums up the works rather than simplifying the process."

While many Americans mistakenly believe that Soviet citizens no longer try to defect from their country, immigration officials say the asylum requests have increased.

Last year, 1,043 Soviet citizens tried to defect to the U.S, an INS spokesman said. At the end of the year, 543 of those cases were pending, 260 were granted asylum and 240 were denied.

"Soviet citizens do have a lot more freedom now, but they're still defecting like crazy," LaMora said. "They used to defect for political reasons, because they couldn't stand the oppression, but now the [economic] situation in the Soviet Union has deteriorated so, it's almost a survival instinct."

But Soviet citizens who immigrate to the United States, itself in the midst of tough economic times, often find that life here is more difficult than they expected. With the Soviet economy depleted, immigrants receive few dollars in return for their Soviet currency.

"They try so hard to come here, but then when they arrive, they have no money and they can't find jobs," LaMora said. "It's not always the dream they had hoped for."

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