Even Russians can be cowboys if they want to . . .

I recently re-read John Barron’s book ‘MiG Pilot‘, about the defection in 1976 of then-Lieutenant Viktor Belenko in his MiG-25 fighter from Siberia to Japan.

Intrigued to learn more about what happened to Belenko in later life, I went online and searched for more information.  One of the returns was a 1996 interview with him in Full Context.  This excerpt made me laugh.

When I became U.S. citizen with American passport I travel around the world. My first trip was actually a business trip with U.S. Air Force. I went to England. I did not speak English when I came to U.S., and I learn American-English. When we went to England I thought well English is English. After my arrival I heard very strange English. It was British-English. I had very hard time to understand them. But the British do speak English. Customs are almost the same, except British cows give tea instead of milk. Also they’re driving on the wrong side of the road! And they do serve warm beer; it’s ridiculous. I noticed, after my experience in U.S., that there was not warm reception for you, as a stranger, when you walk into their pubs. Later I complain about that to my friends in Wyoming. And they said, “Viktor, Brits love cowboys.” I said, “Really?” Next trip I had cowboy hat, cowboy boots. I show up in their pubs; they look at me with astoundment. “Are you cowboy?” I say, “Yup.” My vocabulary was very limited: Yup and Nope. But I did notice that they accept American cowboy with respect. And not only in England, in Europe and other countries as well. So I do advise my friends, who are traveling abroad, wear cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and act as a cowboy. American cowboys belong to the world!

There’s much more at the link.

It’s a remarkable interview with a remarkable man.  In conjunction with Mr. Barron’s book, it lends new insight into the mind of a man who wanted to be free, and took drastic steps to achieve that.  I’m honored to be his adopted countryman.



  1. One of my favorite formative-years books. Read it when I was 9 or 10.

    I always thought the cover image looked a bit like Chevy Chase though…

  2. LOL New Yorkers are just as fascinated with cowboys. My Brother was taking a break from being a truck-driver and was installing the furnishings of Pizza Hut kitchens. They would see the boots, shirt, name on the belt and the buckle and ask if he was a real cowboy. He would answer in the affirmative and then proceed to regale them with tales, one of, which included being married to a Native American. As you can image, the only truth to the Native American tale was the fact one of his ex-wives was indeed a Native American.

  3. Hey Peter;

    I remembered reading that book in the early 80's, and I remembered his describing his first trip into an American grocery store and he was amazed on the variety of products that capitalism had provided and the anger he felt at the Russian people being cheated by the evils of communism. It was a very good book, I still have that one along with a couple others of the same vein.

  4. In '89 I was stationed in Norfolk, Va. The first exchanges of American and Soviet military to military was taking place. The first Russian naval ships to dock in the US came to town. These are hard bitten sailors that are trained to kill. They also, are required to maintain the utmost of appearances, as one would expect. The Soviet sailors were taken to the grocery stores. Always, every single one of them would break down sobbing while standing frozen in disbelief in the fruit and vegetable section.
    No lines, no waiting, no fights, 24/7, fresh food in huge piles, much of which goes bad before being sold. I'm not sure we understand how good we have it. And do we understand just how bad it could be if the control freaks have their day.
    P.s. They were taken to the grocery store because we were ordered to take them there, interestingly.

  5. Sitting in the airport in Dublin, Ireland in the early 80's several men sitting next to me speaking bad English kept looking at my boots saying "Reagan super cowboy". After 9-11 and remove your boots loafers became my favorite traveling foot wear. Cowboys are welcome most places. Yes I am from TEXAS. And Peter and Miss D welcome.

  6. I read the book when it first came out and remember the news reports when he flew to Japan. Having been exposed to the activities of the GRU, I could imagine the twist in Soviet tails that flight caused. I still have the book here somewhere.

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