The Foreign Service Journal - March 2017
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MARCH 2017


as well as the work of such colleagues

as Tatiana Gfoeller (later ambassador

to Kyrgyzstan) on religious issues and

tensions, who also complemented our

reporting on Yeltsin.

The reason I am compelled to men-

tion this reporting dynamic now is that

historians are unlikely to figure any of

this out any time soon. So while I am still

able, I want to try and see to it that my

people, who analyzed events more from

economic and social perspectives and

less from political vantage points and

Kremlinology, receive recognition for

basically getting it right from the get-go

and throughout this critical period.

The Last Ones Out

Finally, I certainly salute the brave acts

of the communications processing unit

(CPU) in Moscow and was mesmerized

by Tim Lawson’s article, which high-

lighted the March 1991 embassy fire.

When the fire broke out, I was in a

meeting in the executive suite. Deputy

Chief of Mission Jim Collins turned to the

head of the Adminstrative Section, Joe

Hulings, asking him if it was a drill. When

he said that it was not, I ran to my section.

As Mr. Lawson describes it, the fire

moved very quickly. But, despite smoke

and extreme danger, my staff stayed and

locked up all their materials and safes

before trying to exit the building.

When my group got down to the third

floor, the staircase was on fire. As a thick,

carpet-like plume of solid black smoke

moved toward us up the stairs, I was

asked whether we should go back up. I

yelled to everyone to take a deep breath

and run down the staircase with me, and

not go back upstairs.

They followed me down through

two flights of stairs on fire, through the

dense, punishing smoke, where I finally

hit the exit door whose frame was totally

aflame. It did not budge; and I thought

we were dead. At that moment, Roman

Wasilevski, a fine reporting officer—who,

fortuitously, was tall—backed up and hit

the door again and again until it burst


Unfortunately, a waterfall of flam-

ing debris from elevator construction

prevented us from exiting, and the heat

and toxic air was fast overcoming us.

At that point, Mike Desaro noticed that

if we moved very carefully to the right

on a sill, it might just be possible to exit

by shimmying between the waterfall of

flames and the wall.

Although some of us were burned

slightly, we all escaped and went over a

wall—that last step, the harrowing ordeal

of us getting over the wall and down to

safety, was pictured on the front page of

The New York Times

the next day.

I admire the courage of the CPU

team. We did not re-enter as they did,

but I am pretty sure it was the members

of the Economic Section who were the

last ones out.


Throughout the three years I was in charge of

the economic, commercial and labor reporting

from Moscow, we tried to weigh objectively

for Washington each of a long parade of

successive economic reform packages.