The Rust in Red Square
May 28, 1987 - On this day a nineteen-year-old West German named Mathias Rust landed a rented plane in Moscow's Red Square. He claimed he was trying to reduce tensions in the Cold War. Some historians believe that his dangerous prank helped hasten the demise of the Soviet Union.
Rust had taken off in the single-engine Cessna from an airport in Finland. He told air traffic control that he was flying to Stockholm, but as soon as he made his final contact with the tower, he changed his course to the east and headed straight for the Soviet Union.
Amazingly, Rust was able to slip through the Soviet air space without causing much alarm. After circling Red Square a couple of times, he found an opening and landed. He was immediately arrested. After a quick trial he was sentenced to four years in prison for hooliganism and other offenses.
The event was a huge embarrassment for the Soviet military. The breach also gave Gorbachev a great excuse to remove many of his biggest critics, and in turn it eased the way for many of his reforms.
As a goodwill gesture to the west, Rust was released after a year in prison.