Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Sergei Khrushchev, Part 1

Dr. Sergei Khrushchev was interviewed on September 4, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage Alaska. Roger Babler was also present during part of the interview. Dr. Khrushchev was a special guest speaker at the conference "A Cold War, 2014 Alaska Conference and Nike Veterans Reunion" held in Anchorage, Alaska on September 4 and 5, 2014. In this first of a two part interview, Dr. Khrushchev discusses his family and early years, Soviet and American relations during the Cold War, and his work with the Soviet missile and space program. He also talks about the arms race during the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, assisting his father, Nikita Khrushchev, with his memoirs, and his own publications.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2014-18-04_PT.1

Project: Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites
Date of Interview: Sep 4, 2014
Narrator(s): Sergei Khrushchev
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
People Present: Roger Babler
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Historical Commission, Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Early family life

Cold War

Nikita Khrushchev's Cold War ideology

His father's memoirs

Missile and defense work

US fear of Soviet aircraft and missiles

Space exploration work

Computer research and design work

Coming to the United States and working at the Thomas Watson Center for Foreign Policy Development,

Alaska and the Cold War

Learning about his father from his memoirs, and writing his own books

Cuban Missile Crisis

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Transcript

LESLIE McCARTNEY: It’s September 4, 2014. I’m Leslie McCartney, and Karen Brewster and Roger Babler are also in the room. And thank you again for taking the time to speak to us. SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: You’re welcome. My pleasure.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And for speaking at this conference, too. So maybe we could just start out, maybe you can just tell us a little bit about your younger days and growing up and your home and your parents.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Oh, this is such broad question. But I will say we have a very good family.

Unfortunately, when I was six years old I had tuberculosis, my hip. So I lay on my back for more than year. Because it was no cure at that time. No antibiotics.

And during the Second World War, my father was at war and we were -- have to evacuate from Kiev and live in the Kuybyshev Samara. But it would be -- just not the good part of my life. The other was very good. We have a very good family.

We love our parents -- they love me -- us. We still have very good memory about them.

The rest you can read in my book.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s right!

KAREN BREWSTER: Was most of your growing up then in Kiev in the Ukraine?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: If you’re asking -- which years? Because I -- my father was sent as the governor of Ukraine in 1938. I was three years old and it was risky, but 1941 on July 22 it was war started.

Germans attack us so -- on June 22. In July, we retreated from there and then until 1944 we lived in Kuybyshev on the Volga River, but now named Samara. Then in -- back in Moscow.

And in September ‘44 came back to Kiev where I lived until end of 1949. And the rest of the life I lived in Moscow.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So when your dad was, you said, involved in the Second World War, he was away most of the time then?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No. If you’re at war, you’re away all the time, not most of the time, all the time.

He was at war from the first day of the war and then until the beginning of the 1944 when they -- they take Ukraine back, and he returned to his obligation as the governor of Ukraine. Let’s use such name as is more convenient for you and your listeners.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So when he did come back home -- we’re just interested in the family life. Did he talk much politics at home then? Or was he just focused on the family when he was home?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: You know, when we’re talking about the Soviet Union, Soviet Union was country with a centralized economy. The leader is not so much politician as the CEO who will make all the decisions.

So when he came home, he of course talked, not with us, like children, but other people who come with him, what he was interested in this time.

It can be sometime of the innovation agriculture or he was very much interested in the construction of the new homes. It was apartment homes, because it was big problem in Russia.

It was no new construction for long time, and then during the war everything was destroyed.

So he tried to find new technology, because the panel technology did not exist at that time, how he can just supply people with enough living space.

And also it was the agriculture that they had. So, this was discussed all the time, but not such politics which we discuss in this country.

Who was who, who will have done this way, who would do this, this whom I cooperate, this whom I'm fighting.

Of course, it was part of the life, political life of that time, but we never discussed these things at home.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about during the Cold War in the 1950s and ‘60s when there was a lot of conflict with the United States? Did he ever discuss that and his feelings about President Kennedy?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No. He discussed, of course, sometime this. But I repeat, even if was Cold War, Cold War was only part of our life.

Because we live in this environment as you live in Alaska or other people live in Hawaii. So you live in the cold climate and we lived in the Cold War.

But still his priority was to make life of the people better. So it was still the same priority.

It was the construction. It was industry, agriculture. Because when we’re talking about the Cold War, we more focusing on the military side of these things, and my father told it was not most important part of the -- that period than any others.

Because his position was that that system would take over and win the support of the people. That present better life for them.

And so if you’ll spend most of your resources for the military and the arms, you’ll be not on the winning side but on the losing side.

So he tried to negotiate with Americans. How to prevent the war, how to avoid American attack, because we thought that America just planning this attack all the time.

And how he have to limit his military spending to that minimum that give us the security. And he thought -- in 1959 he wrote his memo to the government that we have to reduce Soviet armed forces from five million to half a million.

Because now we will have enough nuclear capability. That mean ICBM with the warheads -- and enough -- that mean not more than four hundred warheads.

So we can then now transform our military and barely stop production of the conventional arms like planes, tanks, artillery.

And also when we will have four hundred missiles, we will stop production missiles. Because it’s enough to destroy American infrastructure and then invest all this money. I’m repeating, in the production consumer goods and improving life of the people.

And he told that, of course, we can negotiate this with United States. But this will be -- can be also a trap.

Because you're negotiating and you’re dependent from the opposite side. You have to decide for yourself what you need for the security.

And I told what he think that he need for the security. And we have to -- not to be dependent from the opposite side but to do for ourself.

Because he told, Americans spending their money, and he told, I’m spending my money.

And if America have superiority, as he told President Kennedy when Kennedy told that he can destroy Soviet Union several time, my father answered him for me, “It is enough to kill you once.”

And Kennedy agree with him. So it was -- it was not arithmetic at that time like now, but this reasonable logic. What you need and what you don’t need. And it was his policy.

KAREN BREWSTER: And partly we are asking this because, as you know, in the United States we only hear one side of that history.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yeah, I understand. I’m very happy to speak with you. To explain you, because now it is also very different vision on the Soviet side and the Russian side.

Because when the Brezhnev came to the power, military industrial complex took over and then decided that they have to balance all branches of the armed forces.

And my father repeatedly told that it is from the very beginning a losing situation. And he explained this to the commander of the Soviet Navy when he asked $130 billion in 1955 for the new program of the naval shipbuilding.

My father asked him. He told, “We are not planning attack United States. We don’t have communication. Can you win? Take over America from the ocean now?”

And Admiral answered, “No.” And he told it is very simple.

America’s economy is three time bigger than our economy, so if we will try to balance us, it will be able to do it. Because in next ten years we will be even more weaker in comparison with Americans, but we will spend these $130 million -- billion rubles.

So he told no. We will change the strategy. We will not build surface blue-water navy.

We will build shore defense and submarines and nothing more, and we will save these resources. So this was the difference of the idea when we’re talking that one side have five thousand missiles, other side have seven thousand missiles. We have to balance them.

You have thirty thousand tanks and we have only ten thousand tanks, so you are stronger. We are weaker. It is very primitive calculation.

Because the -- if you have nuclear weapons, you will use them and destroy all thirty thousand tanks and -- and it will be the end of the story.

But that side will spend -- spend three times more resources, and that mean they will not spend these resources in the proper way.

That mean also by now the United States having the biggest military budget in the world. Six hundred million dollars. Not making this country stronger.

It making it weaker in the competition in the world with Chinese, with European Union, who really reducing their military spending.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as you say, it was a bit of a game of talk with who had how many and who was trying to be stronger. And it seems like there were times where your father would say, "Oh, we -- we are strong." Was it just talk, or did he have the military weapons to back that up?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: I explain you once more. He told that we have to decide to ourself what we need to make Soviet Union secure.

And from him at that time, he told that if we will be able to destroy American infrastructure, not trying to attack launch sites, and Americans would know this, they will never attack us.

Because now we are talking about figures, arithmatics.

At that time, in the heat of negotiation with the President Eisenhower, mostly Kennedy, it was idea how many losses you have accept for the victory.

For example, when they talk with President Kennedy, American superiority was very big. I don’t know how much.

And Soviet Union have only six ICBM. But they decided that it is balance of power. Because Kennedy told, I’m not ready to sacrifice twelve, thirteen million American’s lives for the victory over the Soviet Union.

When the President Eisenhower came to the power in 1953 and he has his meeting with security advisor military and they told him that we have to start to war against Soviet Union until it’s not too late. And we will win the war.

And president answered them, “Yes, we will win the war. I agree with you. But what will be after?” And they answered, “We don’t know.”

And he told, “If you don’t know what will be after the war, you mustn’t start the war.” So it was very different ideology, I will say, than later -- when we think we have to start the war and then mission accomplished -- we don’t know what will be later.

Or we much victorious if we will have more weapons than other side.

But the way even now, you can look on the American defense ideology, security ideology, and Chinese. Chinese don’t try to build their -- their strategic forces for America.

They count as that they need as many they think it’s enough for them. That nobody will attack them. It was also my father ideology.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Have the Chinese always had that ideology, or do you think they adopted it from, maybe, your father’s thinking?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Well, I don’t think the Chinese want to say that they accepting somebody’s other thinking. So Chinese will say that Khrushchev adopted our thinking.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Very good. I didn’t think of it that way.

So you -- you helped your father write his memoirs?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Well, helped is the wrong way. I didn’t help my father to write memoirs. I insisted and pushed him that he’d have to dictate his memoirs.

And then I help him that I found the tape recorder, that I found the typist, and the typing machine. And I edited his memoirs.

So, this it was big part of my life that I just spend working with his memoirs.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Was he -- why was he reluctant to -- why did you have to push him?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: You know, in American history, politics, if you are leaving the office, you are going for the lecture tour and starting to write your memoirs.

In the Russian history, Russian Empire, Soviet history, you mustn’t leave office until your death.

If it will be not natural death and you are ousted of power, in most of these cases they will kill you. As it happened with Peter III and Paul I and many others.

And rulers in the Imperial time. And we know about all the Stalin’s executions.

So my father changed this. Because he have the president when he -- president when he won his battle against Stalinists in June 1957.

And they thought it will be business as usual. They will be just eliminated.

And my father answered them when they begged him not to execute them, “Who care about you?”

And he send them to some not minor but not very high position in different area. So when he was ousted of power without blood, without fighting, he also was not executed.

And it was -- he told it was his big achievement. Because when he came back after this vote from the Central Committee of the Communist Party that ousted him from power, and he told me, “Would I do only one big thing in my life that it will be now possible to take the person from the highest position in the country without blood, I would think that I did not live my life for nothing.”

But it was known, of course, history of the writing memoirs. Because in the Russian Imperial and the Soviet mentality, it is only the present government who can create the history.

So it was only two people who before him who wrote their memoirs. It was Sergei Witte, the prime minister of Tsar Nicholas II, who was sent to the retirement as the punishment that he pushed tsar into the 1905 -- during the revolution to sign the decree giving some -- some limited freedoms to the president and others and it was retaliation from -- for the tsar and his family.

And he started to write his memoirs. And it was long-term mouse and cat game of them in the Imperial Palace.

At last, he smuggled his memoirs and published them in Germany. Second was Léo Trotsky, who started to write his memoirs in Mexico.

And we know that Stalin killed him. He paid his life. So my father was the third.

And through this he repeatedly told, "I do it because you insist this -- insisted, but you have to understand. It’s useless because they will take it over and it be disappeared." So why I took this precaution and smuggled it also abroad the same as Sergei Witte did.

Only we publish this memoir is not in Germany, but in United States.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it was published in Russian? You translated it into English?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No, I didn’t translate it into English. I could not smuggle all these edited texts. Because I finished editing this in only 1991.

I smuggled the tapes, not really for the publication, but to save them there.

But when the KGB confiscated these, we decided that you -- they can publish it. And so the Strobe Talbott edited these tapes in his own way.

Sometime edit to my father’s dictation, some his own sort. What he think Khrushchev have to say about this. So it was not authentic version.

And he published this and, thanks to him, because it was the first appearance of my father’s memoirs. It was ninety-nine percent authentic. I won’t say that Strobe Talbott falsicated, no.

He was an honest person. But then in 1999, we published the full version of the memoirs in Russia.

And in 2005– 2007, Penn State University Press published this in the United States.

KAREN BREWSTER: I would like to shift a little bit to to talk about yourself, working with missile and defense systems in the Soviet Union. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes. I worked from 1958 'til 1968 in one of the missile design bureau, and we started -- this was designing cruise missiles that have to contain American aircraft carriers.

At that time, we were much ahead of United States. Because our chief, he invented the idea that you had -- can spread the wings of the missile after launching, not before.

Nobody did it before. Now it is so common, like a wheel, and you think that we knew this all the time. But it was very bold technological step.

Because when your spreading the wings, you have the momentum that can turn it upside down. And most of the engineers in the world think it’s impossible, so we will not try.

And he tried, and we did it. And after that, we worked and we make these missiles.

Very advanced technologies. It was launched and in two hundred miles could see the order of the ships and translate this picture back to submarine, and then the captain can pick this ship and say we'll sink this ship. There was only one problem.

That nobody knew where these American aircraft carriers in the ocean -- left from you, ahead of you, behind you, on the right.

So the Air Force told that we will give you reconnaissance from our Tupolev-95. You know them as Bear planes.

But we thought it will be not reliable because America will shoot it. So we decided to launch the reconnaissance satellite.

It was first radio reconnaissance satellite that can observe the surface of the ocean and translate this picture -- live picture -- to the submarines and the headquarter.

But it’s require too much energy that can be supplied at that time by the solar panels. So we have to decide design the nuclear reactor to send in space to produce this energy.

And also we thought that Americans will not really accept our reconnaissance satellite. They will try to intercept it.

So we also built our own interceptor that will intercept American interceptor. And we did this. And then we built the launch for this, and later we build one of the best of Soviet ballistic ICBM. SS-11 and their variation, the SS-19.

Then the biggest space launch, Proton, and among all other things, we worked and I worked on the air defense and the ballistic missile defense.

And I just spoke yesterday with your lieutenant governor explaining them this ballistic missile defense absolutely useless. And he disagree with me.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Why do you say it’s absolutely useless?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Because technically, you can intercept warhead. It’s very -- not very easy -- but it’s easy, because it’s going through the very predictable trajectory.

But to intercept warhead, you have to send two interceptors to be reliable. To make it simple, I say that now in each missile you have ten warheads and about fifty (inaudible) warheads. So sixty. So to intercept one missile, you have to send how many?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You said there were sixty?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Sixty.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you have to had sent two?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No, you send two for each. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Two for each? KAREN BREWSTER: So a hundred and twenty.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Hundred and twenty. So economically it’s useless. So why they invented here such deceiving idea that we will not intercept missiles from Russia or China.

We will intercept somebody’s one missile. That is -- have no sense.

Because we talk about North Korea, but with the level of the North Korean technology, what I’m saying to my students -- and then (inaudible) they think that their missiles are very dangerous, but only to the launching team.

And, of course, we see that these -- no missiles. We talk about some mythological Iranian missiles that not exist and will not exist.

And secondly, even if these countries will have nuclear weapons and one or two missiles that we can intercept, they will never launch against anybody.

Because if they launch this against Soviet Russia, China, United States, it will be hail of retaliation and nobody wanted to commit suicide in such exotic way.

So this is just part of the wasted resources.

United States built these anti-ballistic missile interceptors, which will be never used because it will be no reason to use.

And if you’re trying to use them against the massive missile attack, it is like the umbrella filled with holes. You say, yes, I have umbrella, but still I will be wet.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the Nike sites that were here in Alaska in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they never launched anything. They were here and now they’re gone. Maybe that’s another example of --

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes, it’s another example because it was the fear that Soviet Union will attack United States.

And United States started to build very sophisticated anti-aircraft defense system that named Sage, which really enriched the IBM. Building these IBM’s.

And when we work on our system, we was very jealous. We thought Americans built all these systems that can cover all this.

And we cannot do it. We don’t have all these capabilities.

But it is also with the system that have to prevent -- protect United States from the phantom threat.

Because after the Second World War, it was beginning the endless discussion in the Congress and the American government when we will attack Soviet Union. How many cities will destroyed? Twenty? Fifty? It depend how many warheads they had at that time.

And, of course, the Soviet government wanted to retaliate.

There’s only one ability, but the United States surrounded Soviet Union with airbases, so it was reasonable distances but longer than during Second World War. But the planes were better.

But when Stalin asked of the most famous Soviet designer, Tupolev, how we can do it, Tupolev told that I can design the plane that will reach American territory.

And this is the Tupolev-95 Bear. But it will never penetrate American air defense.

I can build a plane which will penetrate American air defense, but it will never reach American territory. So they build the Bear plane, and Soviet Union produced limited numbers of them because we have this design.

But they stop new designs of the planes and focus on the ballistic missiles, because it was no possibility to intercept them.

But Americans still built their air defense thinking that it is the possibility of such attack.

A rich country can allow himself to -- just to satisfy this phantom plane, because it was the General (Curtis LeMay's?) idea of the bomber gap -- that Soviet Union produced bombers. But the first U-2 flight in 1956 just destroyed this idea.

Because they made this photographs that told no, the Soviet Union has only limited numbers of the bombers.

And it was only two type of the bombers that Soviet tried to show we have many of them, because they wanted to show Americans we are strong. Not attack us.

So they made -- it was one of the air show near Moscow.

And they have one Bear bomber and ten -- this Bison bomber that they named M3.

And they flew over the crowd and then they rushed around the Moscow, and flew over the crowd and flew over the crowd. But was only eleven of them.

And later was not many more of them. So, this myth was destroyed by the U-2 flight. And this was maybe in the favor of the peace.

But still you build these Nike sites, and we built also some air defense system.

But, of course, Americans have about -- at the end of the Cold War about 2500 strategic planes.

So, you never use it, and you were lucky. The Soviet use it a couple of times, but also no. Mostly against U-2 planes.

KAREN BREWSTER: The systems you worked on building and designing, were any of those ever used?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No, we never even designed it. We tried to design the interceptor similar to American bomber, but this interceptor that can cover bigger territory, because Soviet Union is too big.

But then we decided that we have other priorities, and we focus on the cruise missiles for the Navy and cruise missiles -- anti-ballistic missiles.

And when we worked on the anti-ballistic missile defense project named Taran, we stop it for the same reason that they explained you. That economically it’s impossible.

KAREN BREWSTER: So did you shift some of your work to space exploration?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes. We -- we worked and we -- we designed first manned space station in the world from which all this story began. We built the Proton satellite, too.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you yourself were involved in those projects?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: And to find some quarks. Didn’t find them.

I was in charge of the guidance systems. I personally was in charge of the different guidance systems for different type of missiles.

And my friend was in charge of the guidance system of the space station, but I was in charge of the cruise missiles and the military satellites.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What were some of the challenges that you had to think about when designing the first space station?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: It is challenge when you designing the new things, because we did not copy American technology.

And our boss, his name Vladimir Chelomei, he told, “I don’t want to copy anybody’s technology. I will do it in my own way,” and was until end of his life.

When they told him from the military that now Americans build the Tomahawk missile and we have to build similar.

Would you do it? He told, “No. They did it. I will do something myself. I can design much better than Tomahawk missile. It will have the range about three and a half thousand miles and the speed four times more than speed of sound.”

But it was tested, but never went to the production, because then it was the agreement between Gorbachev and Reagan, and they just stop it.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how many people would be on a team working to design? You said you were in charge of the guidance system for the missiles. How many people did you work directly with?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Our department was at that time about two hundred people. But it was many more people, because it was not we designed everything. Like everywhere you have subcontractors.

We worked with the missile and we have another research institution which designed the guidance system.

And they have their subcontractor which designed different instruments. And they have their subcontractor which design and build the electronics and others.

So as in this country, in that country there was tens of thousands of people who worked on all these things.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s a lot of people and details to be coordinating and keeping track of. It’s very complicated.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes. It was our obligations to coordinate this, not so much to design all the details, but coordinate and bring together and follow that it will be just not overweight and not oversize, because then it will be impossible to put on the missile.

Because it was the joke I told. You cannot do it, because missile built from aluminum not from rubber. It cannot expand.

KAREN BREWSTER: And if you put too much weight on it, it’s not going to go --

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: It will not go anywhere. That is true.

KAREN BREWSTER: So after things were agreed with the United States, the Cold War quieted down, were you still working on missile systems or you did other things?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No. I was -- they send me -- let’s say, relegate me from missile design bureau to the computer research institute as a signal to my father don’t dictate memoirs or we’ll do something worse.

But it was such complicated signal that I didn’t understand this until twenty years later.

But anyway, after that for -- from 1968 to 1991, I worked not on missiles but on the different computer application to the science, research and technology, including the -- building the computer system to control production, distribution electric energy in Ukraine and Central Asia.

Some nuclear reactors and nuclear power stations, including the Iranian power station, which we started to build in the Shah’s time, not now.

Some optimization of the distribution of water in the Central Asia.

Prediction earthquakes. Works together with Americans trying to collect all the data. So it was busy things, in which I worked for many years until I started more interested in history and trying to understand why we didn’t achieve our goals. Why we’re still not more powerful than United States?

And through this I wrote my first book. And after Leonid Brezhnev dying, it was possible to travel abroad.

And I spoke to the Thomas Watson Center for Foreign Policy Development, the Board of Directors, and he invited me to his center. Thomas Watson was the former president of IBM, who hosted my father in his factory in San Jose in 1959.

And then he was ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was very much concerned about the possibility of the nuclear war.

So I came here in this country in 1991, in some absolutely unknown for me place that named Rhode Island, Providence.

And after first year, Soviet Union collapse, my institute collapse, and I found that they interested in the same as me.

So I have to write and teach and talk. So I lived one more year, another year, and then I asked my wife, “Will we return to the Russia or not?”

And we decided, so we live here. So 1999 on the July 2 we became the American citizens.

We still have Russian passport, American passport, so we easy travel back and forth. No visas. But, of course, it is not without problems.

If you have to move something from one kitchen to another, you have to go through the two customs, each of them with their own questions.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you’re still teaching now?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: I retired two years ago, but I’m still teaching. Because I retired from the Watson Institute and then my friends from there -- our Slavic department told, “Maybe now you will teach one semester?”

And then a second. I tell, “No, only one.” And then it was second year.

And now they came the third time and I told them, "Really I nhave to say no, but I cannot." And I told, it’s addiction like alcoholism. You cannot say no.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you are how old now?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: I will be eighty next year.

KAREN BREWSTER: That's great. That's very good. Because we’re here in Alaska and we are interested in the role of Alaska in the Cold War and in that piece of history, do you have any thoughts about that?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Unfortunately, I think that -- or maybe fortunately to you, you didn’t play too big a role in the Cold War, because most it was in the European theater or in the South.

But under the threat of the possible American attack in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Stalin told that the war will be inevitable. America will attack us not later than 1955.

And with his aging mind of the dictator, he thought that maybe they will attack us -- or you will attack us -- from Alaska to Chukotka.

And then advance somewhere for nowhere. Three thousand miles without any roads.

But if he gave the order, it was one hundred thousand Soviet troops stationed in Chukotka waiting for the American invasion. And one of my relatives lost his health there, waiting there, sitting there. He was an intelligence officer.

And I think it was only one serious role in the Cold War.

Because Alaska was much more important in the Second World War, when Tom Watson, future president of IBM at that time Air Force pilot, just first fly from Moscow through Siberia to Alaska.

And just pave this road through which came the -- flew the many planes who really helped the Soviet Union to win the -- defeat the Germans in the Second World War.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s what we call the Lend Lease program here.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No. Lend Lease program have different directions. And one of these was most -- how to say -- closest, maybe it was from the Iran and Volga.

But then in 1942–‘43, Germans just advanced up to the Volga and make this impossible. The second road of the Lend Lease program go through the north to the Murmansk.

But there was all these American -- uh -- German submarines. So you cannot bring tanks or aluminum or food other way.

But for planes, both sides decided you cannot bring them on the ships, but they will fly themself.

And this is --begin this route for the American planes that flew there. Now it is many teams just searching through this route looking for the antique American planes that crashed through Siberia. There’s been many that crashed on those flights.

KAREN BREWSTER: So did you lose many Russian pilots then? On those flights?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: What does mean many? This many, many times less than you lose them during the war -- Americans and others. But you have problems all the time with bad weather and others, and it was such agreement that American fly these planes up to the Nome in Alaska and then Soviets flew them over the Siberia.

And some of them lost both the planes and the crews. Some of them it was only the planes.

But you fly there, not land. No GPS, no real navigation. And it is -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Sometime not on the charts.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: -- very long flight and very harsh weather and temperature.

Because Watson, he told us when he first stopped at Yakutsk during the winter. Next morning he could not start his plane. Must be twenty-five at that time.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’m conscious of time, because I know you wanted to leave by --

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: No, we can speak a little bit longer.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: A little longer? Okay. Thank you.

When you were having your -- just going back to your father’s memoirs, was there anything that you learned that you found very surprising? That you hadn’t known about your dad?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Oh, it was many things that I did not know this. I cannot even say you now, because I lived most of my life -- a big part of my life -- together with memoirs, so I don’t remember what was new for me.

But many things new for me. And even my mother wrote in her diary that, "When I read my husband’s memoirs, I found that I didn’t know many, many of these things, because very new for me." Not even political, but in different other aspects.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So he was really opening himself up to really be known. SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes, of course.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And your memoirs?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: I did three books. It was in this country was published "Khrushchev on Khrushchev." Published by Little, Brown in 1990.

Then it was "Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower," published by Penn State University Press, 2000. Most interesting for you it would be of relations.

And it was third book "Khrushchev in Power," I’m finished three fourths probably, by Lynne Rienner Publisher, just last February, 2014.

KAREN BREWSTER: You’re probably very aware that the United States has been doing a lot of reminiscing about the Cuban Missile Crisis lately.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Yes. Because it was Professor Jim Blight who started this project in the ‘80s and it became one of the important work of his life.

And really, he was the person who brought me to the United States through this project.

So without Jim Blight you would not know most of these things about Cuban Missile Crisis.

KAREN BREWSTER: And we again only hear the United States side. What can you tell us from the perspective of the Soviet side at the time?

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: What I will tell you -- when we talking about Cuban Missile Crisis, first of all you have mythology, like any such history.

One of these mythology based on the Superman film that Kennedy in Vienna summit in June 1961 looks weak, and Khrushchev, the bad man, bullied him.

And then he decided to send his missiles to Cuba to change balance of power, but Kennedy and American people showed their iron fist.

Khrushchev was scary, took his missiles out, and then was ousted of power. Which has nothing close to the reality.

First of all, Khrushchev didn’t think that American president can be a weak man, because he is the president of the most powerful country in the world.

And when he met Kennedy, he told that yes, he’s young, but he's -- most of his foreign-policy different from Eisenhower.

That Eisenhower, whom he also have high opinion of him, all the time ask advices from his secretary of state and Kennedy didn’t ask any breaks during two days’ negotiations.

And he told, “I want to conduct my foreign-policy. Even if he have the direct communication." That my father appreciated, and he told that it will be easier to deal with him.

Not because he can manipulate him. Is impossible. But if you are talking directly with the person who is the master of this policy, it is easier than you are talking with somebody who is behind the scene.

And he never thought that he’s too young to his office, because my father ask him, the Kennedy, how old is he? And then he told, “Oh, my son who was this same age.”

But as -- and the Soviet translator told, it was -- have nothing of the American interpretation.

It was not the political words. It was the words that he was in the war and my son was in the war. He was on PT boat and was sank, and my son was shot.

You survived and he not. Nothing else.

And I will add that my father repeated that the best age to be in the high position was in your forties. Because as he told, at that time you’re thinking about your country, about your own future, and not about the hospital.

And he repeated this. And even in the end of his career he wanted to bring more young people there.

So he deal with him, with Kennedy, trying to find out how they can work together. It’s not easy, as we know in the Soviet–American relations. And even now with Soviet–Russian relations.

Because we made many mistakes that bringing us from some detente to the strong confrontation.

And when we talk about the Cuba, the Cubans just liberated themselves from Batista.

And first visit for Fidel Castro was not to Moscow, but to Washington D.C. on, I think, April 23, 1959.

And he wanted to speak with American president about future collaboration on developing democratic Cuba, but Americans did not trust Castro. They more trust Batista, and the President Eisenhower didn’t want to speak with him.

He played (inaudible). He asked Vice President Nixon to speak with him, and Nixon was not really polite.

So it was the rules. If you will reject it, your enemy will find him.

So Soviets started to help Castro. At last moment him on their side.

But Soviet Union did not think that they have to commit their future to defending Cuba, because Cubans became heroes to all the Soviets.

It’s like David and Goliath, who was confronted these monster Americans. And far as all young people, they were heroes.

And when I asked my father, “Americans will attack them? Why we’ll not invite Cubans into Warsaw Pact?”

And he told, "You see it is too dangerous. Because we have our members just here in Europe. And if they will be attacked, we have the time to think.

They are too far. American control all communication, and we even don’t know who’s Castro really.

If America attack them and they will be member of Warsaw Pact, it will be beginning of the nuclear war. And maybe Fidel Castro and other Cubans will shake hands with Americans. And we will just kill our own people for this."

So Cuba is very cautious, but during the Bay of Pigs everything changed.

Not because we have the mythology that Soviets said that Americans are weak. But because at that time when still was unclear the future, Castro officially declared that he want to join the Soviet bloc.

And at that time, it was obligation of each super power to protect all their allies and all their clients. They could have helped us? President Kennedy talk about -- I don’t remember whom -- one of these Central American dictators -- “He’s son of the bitch, but he’s our son of the bitch.”

Well, the same with the Soviet Union. So my father thought, "What I can do?"

And he told -- Maybe I will start little bit different way. So through --

KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe we take a break to change tapes so you start again? Is that okay? SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Okay, okay.