Three minutes after a dissident Estonian scientist left this correspondent's car on a busy Moscow street, three Soviet agents detained him, drove him to a nearby police station, searched him, and took copies of two Baltic protest statements on Afghanistan and the Olympic Games.
The scientist, Jurii Kukk, was held for two days and nights Jan. 28 to 30, then escorted back to his home city of Tartu and warned not to return to Moscow again.
The episode, details of which Mr. Kukk has supplied to the Monitor, was part of the current KGB crackdown on dissidents, including the exiled Dr. Andrei Sakharov.
The KGB effort is to prevent dissidents contacting the Western, and particularly the American, press. Mr. Kukk telephoned details from Tartu, surprised his call from a public telephone was able to get through.
New to dissident activity (he resigned from the Communist Party in 1978 after a membership of 12 years), he said, "I would not have believed the KGB's methods. But now i do."
His story: At first agents said, "You got out of a foreign car. Maybe you were speculating with the people in it, in hard currency." The search followed. The agents followed the usual procedure of writing out a "protokol" (list) of items taken.
There were seven in all, including copies of the two Baltic statements signed by five Estonians (including Mr. Kukk) and more than a dozen Latvians and Lithuanians. Another was an Estonian court decision about fellow dissident Mart Niklus. Agents said it was in a "foreign language." Mr. Kukk replied that Estonian was an official language of the USSR.
Two witnesses were brought in to sign the "protokol." One had been drinking.
The agents looked for gold and silver items, but Mr. Kukk felt he had been detained because he had contacted the Monitor before about Estonian nationalism. The resulting article had been broadcast back to the Soviet Union in the three Baltic languages by the Voice of America.
Agents warned him he could be prosecuted under Article 70 of the Russian criminal code. The penalty of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda is six months to seven years in prison with or without two to five years internal exile after that -- or two to five years internal exile alone. Agents then took his internal passport, Mr. Kukk said.
Mr. Kukk said he would protest his detention by not eating until he was home in Tartu.
That night Mr. Kukk was permitted to sleep on couch in the police station waiting room. But the next day he was treated as though he had been brought in for drunkenness. His tie and belt were taken away and he was put into the "akvarium" (drying-out tank) with men brought in the night before.
When he complained it was cold, he was transferred to a worse place: a cell where men serve 15-day sentences for vagrancy and minor crimes, usually drunken behavior.
There he met the two witnesses who had signed his "protokol." He talked with them during the 14 hours he remained in the cell. Both were serving sentences.
On Jan. 30 two militiamen from Tartu appeared to take him home. Mr. Kukk asked to see the document ordering his return.
He was shown a decision signed by a general of the militia giving two reasons: (1) He had stayed more than three days in Moscow without registering with the police (technically a crime but often overlooked), and (2) he had been caught trying to enter the American Embassy.
He was astonished. First currency speculation, now this. He pointed out he has been detained on the third day of his stay in Moscow. He had intended to leave. The extended length of his stay was involuntary. He denied he intented to enter the embassy. He had been half a mile from it when picked up.
He was allowed to collect his belongings from a friend's apartment, and he ate his first food in 52 hours. One the train ride home he showed the militia pictures of his stay in Paris from 1975 and 1976, where he worked as an electrochemist at Bellevue.
Back in Tartu he fell asleep during further questioning at police headquarters. When he awoke 30 minutes later, he was allowed to go home to his wife and two small children, but warned to stay away from Moscow.His i nternal passport was returned.
That day he said he was kept under surveillance by militia cars.
Fired last August from his job as assistant professor with the inorganic chemistry faculty at Tartu State University, he is trying to find a new job there. If he fails, he will try to emigrate.
He expects more official pressure because of his friendship with other Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian dissidents.