Soviet director's challenge to Moscow plunges him into international drama

Embarrassment for the Soviet Union is growing here. New details are emerging of heavy-handed, unsubtle pressure and threats directed at famous theater director Yuri Lyubimov by the Soviet Embassy to stop him from making a spectacular defection to the West.

Mr. Lyubimov has confirmed to British reporters details first reported in The Christian Science Monitor Monday. His case has become front-page news, and the Soviet Embassy is highly upset.

This newspaper has additional details of the embassy pressure, including a threat made against Mr. Lyubimov by a Soviet official.

The affair is further eroding Soviet prestige, already damaged by the shooting down of civilian Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in the Far East.

It is likely that Mr. Lyubimov will find he has no choice but to stay in the West after the furor here. His Hungarian wife and four-year-old son are in London with him.

Not only has he refused to recant public criticisms of Soviet censorship, but he repeated those criticisms in a 20-minute interview on the British Broadcasting Corporation Russian-language service, which a significant number of Moscow and Leningrad intellectuals listen to.

The broadcast was part of a Lyubimov strategy to win more artistic freedom if he returns to Moscow's famed Taganka Theater, which he founded in 1964. His last three plays in Moscow have been canceled before public performance.

Some emigres here say the broadcast might have the opposite effect. The KGB will be furious that Lyubimov has been trying to get his side of the story to his friends back in the USSR. The broadcast could make it impossible for him to go home. He could even be stripped of his citizenship while here.

So far he has not asked for political asylum. He has, however, refused to return to Moscow on schedule. Instead he asked that his visa be extended for one month, as of Sept. 13. He had planned to leave for Italy Sept. 14.

''If I were he, I wouldn't even try to bargain with the KGB,'' says a former Muscovite familiar with the Soviet artistic world.

''You cannot win. If it were me, I'd just get out - defect.''

After lying low since the beginning of the week, Mr. Lyubimov has now made public some details of a tense meeting between himself and senior Soviet Embassy official Pavel Filatov at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, where he has been directing a play based on the Dostoyevsky novel ''Crime and Punishment.''

Lyubimov said Filatov tried to talk to him alone. He wanted a ''friendly chat'' about a strongly anti-Soviet interview Lyubimov had just given to the Times. Filatov called the interview ''dreadful,'' Lyubimov said.

Filatov suggested that he and Lyubimov talk on an outside balcony. Lyubimov refused: ''Anything might have happened,'' he said later.

According to this newspaper's information, the conversation went like this:

Filatov: That was a nasty interview in the Times. I'm sure that's not what you wanted to say.

(In the interview Lyubimov had said that ''I cannot accept'' the cancellation of his last three plays in Moscow, and that ''I cannot allow myself to be trampled underfoot.'' He accused Soviet Ministry of Culture officials of being ''incompetent in the arts.'')

Lyubimov: The article was correct in every detail. I am physically ill because of the treatment I have received from the Soviet government. I will remain in the West until I am completely cured.

Filatov: Come tomorrow to the embassy and talk to the ambassador.

Lyubimov: Of course, my friends will accompany me.

Filatov: Impossible.

Lyubimov: I will not come alone.

Filatov: A crime has been committed. Now you will have to wait for the punishment.

Lyubimov has told British reporters that Filatov added: ''We have your telephone number and we will find you.''

Immediately after that, Lyubimov asked the British Foreign Office for physical protection from KGB agents in London.

His address while in London is secret, and British agents began watching his movements.

On Tuesday, Luybimov received a letter from Filatov. As a result he decided to talk with another Soviet official, Yuri Mazur, not at the embassy but at the Lyric Theatre.

Accompanied by a friend (a Russian writer just arrived from Moscow), Lyubimov once again refused to retract any of his criticisms.

Mr. Mazur returned to the embassy, according to the Times, and said he would respond to Lyubimov in writing.

Mr. Lyubimov has finished work on the ''Crime and Punishment'' play, which most critics here have hailed as brilliantly successful. His future plans remain to be decided.

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