Soviet hockey player Alexander Mogilny Tuesday began the process of becoming a U.S. citizen by filing a petition with the Immigration and Naturalization Service for political asylum.

"I want to become a citizen of America," Mogilny said at a news conference held by the Buffalo Sabres. "I like America. Buffalo seems like a comfortable, quiet city. I like the quiet life."Mogilny's life has been anything but quiet since he made the decision to defect from the national team at the conclusion of the world hockey championship in Stockholm last week.

Reports from Moscow have stated that the Central Red Army, of which the 20-year-old was a lieutenant, has filed charges of desertion. Asked about the charges, Mogilny, who has signed a National Hockey Legue contract with the Sabres, seemed unperturbed.

"They had to do that," he said. "There was no other way."

The Sabres' general manager, Gerry Meehan, said that if anything, the charges of desertion would help Mogilny's case.

"I don't think the fact that he was charged with desertion has anything to do with the merits of the asylum petition," Meehan said. "The conditions for asylum were present before that. It certainly doesn't hurt, though, that we know there's a prosecution for the act waiting for him in his home country."

Mogilny said he felt "emotionally exhausted" but said he had no lingering doubts about his decision to leave his country and family.

"Having chosen this step, I've given all consideration to such matters," he said. "But you have to live, and I have to think about my future. `I wanted to play here in the National Hockey League and I wanted to live freely."

Asylum is normally granted when there is a likelihood of persecution should the applicant return home. The persecution can be based upon national, ethnic, religious, political or social factors.