Pravda, the name of the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, means "truth" in Russian. Izvestia, the title of the Soviet government newspaper, means "news."
For years, bemused Russians would look up from their newspapers and say ironically, "There is no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia."Under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, the old complaint is only half correct: Pravda is still the mendacious mouthpiece of party reactionaries, but news has managed to work its way into Izvestia.
To date that newspaper's greatest service was to clear up the tangled mystery of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which strayed over Soviet territory on Sept. 1, 1983, and was shot down, killing all 269 aboard.
In a courageous, meticulously reported 17-part series, Izvestia revealed a troubling pattern: Almost everything the Soviet regime and its numerous foreign apologists said about the tragedy was false.
A few days after the incident (it took some time to cobble together the tale) Moscow made the following assertions:
- A short time before the interception, an American RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft had operated in the area - the Soviet Far East - and the Russian fighter pilot thought the Korean airliner was the spy plane.
- The fighter pilot radioed to KAL 007 that it was over Soviet territory but got no response.
- The intruder was flying without lights, adding to the belief that it was on a spy mission.
- The fighter pilot fired tracer shots to warn the Korean crew, which ignored the signal.
Thanks to Izvestia, we now know that each of the allegations is a lie.
The newspaper located and interviewed the pilot who destroyed 007, Lt. Col. Gennadi Osipovich, who told its reporters: He clearly saw that the Boeing 747 was not an RC-135 spy plane. He had not radioed it. The airliner had its lights on. He had no tracers in his cannon. He fired a few plain shots but knew the crew could not notice them.
Why had Osipovich originally made the untrue statements, Izvestia asked? High Soviet officials ordered him to do so, he replied.
After the downing of 007, a spate of books, magazine articles and movies appeared in the West. Interestingly, most of them accepted Moscow's disinformation, blamed the United States for the disaster and fabricated new "facts" to absolve the Soviets.
Several books by academics suggested the U.S. Navy had recovered the airliner's data recorders but hid the "black boxes" because they would show that the plane was spying. This garbage was picked up by Pravda and recycled to "prove" Moscow's innocence.
Oops. Izvestia interviewed Soviet Air Marshal Pyotr Kirsanov, who disclosed for the first time that the Russians had recovered 007's wreckage from the Sea of Japan and had the black boxes.
Why hadn't the Soviets publicized recorded data to support their espionage accusations? Obviously because the tapes showed that the Korean pilots innocently flew into Soviet airspace and had no idea they were in deadly peril.
Though the Izvestia series finished in January, not one of the Western conspiracy theorists has had the decency to admit he was wrong. Perhaps they're too busy updating their older works accusing the CIA of assassinating President Kennedy.