ABOARD THE MARSHAL KRYLOV - When this Russian missile-tracking ship entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca yesterday, the sailors were pleased by the familiar snow-capped scenery.
"Kamchatka!" exclaimed Cmdr. Alexander Rosskazov, pointing to the Olympics, which look like the Siberian peninsula where the ship is based.
But when the office towers of downtown Seattle began to solidify in the haze, rearing skyward like a castle from Oz as the ship drew near, familiarity turned to excited awe.
"Not Kamchatka!" Rosskazov said to the Americans on board with a laugh, gesturing at the skyscrapers.
His assessments summarized the cultural similarities and differences the Russians are trying to bridge with a satellite launch and recovery. Success Sunday demonstrated both their technical skill and just how swiftly the Cold War is fading: a tailor-made event for Thanksgiving.
"It is impossible for the American people to deeply understand the Russian people and the Russian people to deeply understand the American people," mused Gennady Alferenko, the chairman of Moscow's private nonprofit Foundation for Social Innovations, which helped organize the launch.
"In Russia," he said, "life is suffering. We prepare our mind and our body for sacrifice. This is not an American concept." But now, he said, Russians are sacrificing to convert from communism to a freedom and free-enterprise system much more familiar to the United States, and they need U.S. encouragement and business to do so.
The Krylov crew allowed U.S. journalists to watch while they skillfully recovered their 8-foot-diameter capsule in gale winds and heaving seas. They are part of several historic firsts:
-- It was the first launch of a peaceful satellite from the once top-secret Plesetsk military rocket center near the city of Arkhangelsk.
-- It was the first Russian payload to deliberately land so near the United States, just 120 miles off Grays Harbor on the Washington coast.
-- It was the first space payload to carry art objects, souvenirs and messages of peace from one nation to another.
-- The publicity exercise was organized by a new generation of Russian entrepreneurs and risk-taking military officers who gambled it would be a success.
-- It was the first Russian satellite recovery from the ocean.
-- It marked the first time foreigners had been allowed on a Russian naval ship at sea. The Marshal Krylov's electronics have been considered so secret that no Russian journalists had been allowed on board, even in port, until a few months ago.
In a ceremony at Pier 42 this morning, Mayor Norm Rice, Secretary of State Ralph Munro and other dignitaries exchanged presents with Admiral Gennady Verich, who was aboard the ship directing the overall mission. Rice got a samovar, and the ship's officers received Washington flags and boxes of Northwest foods.
"It's a great moment to meet you aboard our ship," the admiral said. "For most of our crew, this is the first time in America and they hope to know better the habits, the life and the history of the American people."
To Americans, the ship is a fascinating mix of sophistication and relative clunkiness, of a two-story-high control room with giant electronic screen and toilets without seats and showers with little hot water.
The 450-member crew is warm and hospitable, with young officers such as Dimitry Plashyk and Sergey Goroshko serving as patient interpreters and diplomats.
Goroshko has named his son Appollon, after the American Apollo moon missions.
Alferenko is an orphan, raised in a Siberian village named Village 42. A former geophysics professor, he had success at organizing cultural and youth events in Siberia that brought him to the attention of former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika team. He was transferred to Moscow, given an office in the Pravda newspaper building and told to encourage innovation and reform.
He worked to bring together American veterans of the Vietnam War and Russian veterans of Afghanistan, as well as Alaskan and Siberian Eskimos. Today he lives in two cultures, with his wife now in Anchorage and his 17-year-old daughter in San Francisco.
Last year Alferenko heard of an idea by Ilya Baskin, a newly wealthy Russian contractor, for a peaceful demonstration of Russian space prowess.
Other Russians were enlisted to help. One, Yuri Ludov, had converted a military factory to children's-clothing manufacturing. Nikolai Smirnov was a furniture and plumbing manufacturer. Vladimir Ivjenko started Russia's first commercial bank.
Adding glamour was Russian film star Irinia Metlitskaya, who became vice president of Alferenko's foundation.
These entrepreneurs and others pooled the money and cut through red tape to make the Russian launch possible. After a blessing by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Soyuz rocket roared skyward Nov. 16 through a brief break in the weather.
The Russians took it as a good sign that the skies were again clear, though blustery, during the satellite pickup Sunday - and sunny again for their entry into Puget Sound.
Here on the West Coast Americans were a bit bewildered or indifferent about the capsule, Alferenko found. But Seattle promoter Bob Walsh, who helped bring the Goodwill Games to Seattle, heard of the plan while visiting Moscow and agreed to sponsor it here.
The Marshal Krylov has become an integral part of the goodwill mission. Completed in 1987 as a sophisticated electronics vessel to track missiles fired over the ocean, the 680-foot-ship carries no weapons but is a point of pride for the Russian navy. Bristling with radar, it can travel at more than 20 knots and carries two helicopters.
"The prospects for American-Russian bilateral relations are very good," said the ship's commander, Capt. Vadim Yevgenievich Shardyn. "Not only in the political and economic spheres but in the military sphere, through our contacts with American sailors. We Russian personnel are now diplomats in military uniforms."
Living accommodations aboard are pleasant. Four enlisted men share a stateroom in bunks stacked two high, while officers double or have rooms to themselves. There is a small gym, a library, a sauna, a theater for movies and live performances, and lounges with television sets.
The ship is named for Nikoly Ivanovich Krylov, a commander-in-chief of Soviet strategic rocket forces killed in a missile explosion in 1973. A small museum on board has some memorabilia, plus a hammer-and-sickle plaque pried off the deck when the Soviet Union was dissolved.
Some of the ship's antennas are so powerful that personnel are ordered off deck for safety when strong microwave signals are made.
But the Krylov's most distinctive feature, the dome-shaped radar "golf ball," is empty except for use as storage space. Journalists heard two explanations: that the radar was prohibited by the anti-ballistic-missile treaty, or that the technology it was originally designed for became obsolete.
As in much of the world, the plumbing is not what Americans are used to. Food is abundant - three meals plus a tea snack each day - but usually simple. There is often soup made of potatoes, onions or cabbage, ship-baked bread, a starch such as rice or noodles, and fish, chicken, or beef stroganoff. The drinks are usually sweetened, and the coffee is thick by American standards.
The Americans proved to be an equal curiosity. The Russians remarked that the Americans were much more inclined to talk and linger around a meal than the Russians typically do.
Paper products such as napkins or toilet paper are present, but not as abundant as on U.S. vessels. The ship is clean, but visitors may encounter small cockroaches. The booms and winches are operated by cables instead of by the hydraulics seen on modern Western vessels.
The crew consists of mostly 19- and 20-year-olds serving for two years, and a cadre of professional officers who handle the more technical work.
Plashyk, one of the translators, is a senior lieutenant who opted for the Navy when he was 14 and was sent to a naval college in Leningrad. Now 24, he has already served on six ships; several have been scrapped as the Navy shrinks. He earns the equivalent of $30 a month and was dismayed to learn what American electronics cost.
The Russians were aware of American culture. A few made jokes about the portrayal of seeming nonstop crime and violence in American movies. One body-building enthusiast had posted a Bruce Lee sticker in a room, and sailors could rattle off the names of several Arnold Schwarzenegger films.
As the stern of the Krylov plunged up and down 30 feet in turbulent waters off Washington's coast, winds howling by and rainbows forming in a show of weird beauty, chief helicopter pilot Mikhail Pytyatin was asked if the copter would be able to be launched to look for the plunging satellite.
"We are ready to fly in any weather necessary," he calmly replied. A Russian diver dropped into the seas that were cresting as high as 40 feet to cut the capsule parachute away, remaining tethered to his helicopter by a harness.
After the satellite recovery that guaranteed their visit to Seattle, the crew was relaxed and happy, celebrating with a talent show in the ship's theater. Officer Michael Berezin performed songs he had written, and a group played a mix ranging from a tribute to a stewardess to a song called, "Young Hopes of America." --------------------------------------------------------------- How to see ship, capsule
A Russian American Business Opportunity Conference begins at 8:30 tomorrow at the Seattle Sheraton, and art and photo exhibits will be on display.
Tours of the Marshal Krylov are scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 to 5 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, 2 to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
The space capsule is to be part of the Bon Marche Holiday Parade in downtown Seattle at 9:30 a.m. Friday and will be opened at the Museum of Flight at 11 a.m. Saturday.