Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Sergei Khrushchev, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Dr. Sergei Khrushchev on September 4, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Dr. Khrushchev continues to discuss the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2014-18-04_PT.2

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
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Sections

Soviet Union protecting Cuba

Creation of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev

After effects of the Cuban Missile Crisis

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Transcript

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: After Fidel Castro declare that he join Soviet bloc, Cuba became to the Soviet Union the same as the East Berlin -- West Berlin to the United States. Small, useless piece of land deep inside hostile territory.

But if you will not protect it even risking the nuclear war, you will lose your face. And your own allies would not trust you.

And United States, as we know, was ready to use nuclear weapons to protect West Berlin. So my father have to think how can protect Cuba?

And he told me, we cannot protect it diplomatically, because nobody will listen us in the United Nations. Americans will did what they want to do.

We cannot protect them with conventional forces, because America control communication. And even we will have there hundred thousand troops, they cut communication and sooner or later they will perish.

So they need very strong diplomatic signal "Don’t invade Cuba." We are serious.

And he thought that this signal will be deploying the Soviet missiles on Cuba. So it was no such attempt to balance the power.

It was impossible, because at that time Americans had about one hundred fifty-nine ICBM and they have about two hundred fifty middle-range missiles in Europe and more than fifteen hundred strategic bombers.

And the Soviet Union have only twenty-four ICBM. So additional fifty missiles will not change anything.

And the same, if you will not change your chance to win the lottery buying not one ticket but five.

So it was just this signal, but we are two different civilizations. We Americans and we Russians. Or we are American and we Chinese. Or we Americans, we’re Arabs.

And so in many aspects we didn’t understand -- don’t understand each other. And didn’t understand each other in good or bad things.

Because all our conclusion and decisions made on our own experience, and can be very different from the opposite side.

So Khrushchev thought that, yes, missiles will create the crisis, but Americans are not crazy and they will understand that it was not real threat to the -- to them.

So it will be some confrontation and then in couple of weeks or months we’ll go to business as usual. But he base on his own experience like Russia, Soviet Union, other European and Asian countries who had enemies at the gates all their history.

And Americans were lucky. They were protected by two oceans, so their reaction was very different.

I will -- I would compare this with the tiger. Americans like the tigers, the most powerful predator in the world.

But the tiger which grew up in the zoo and then you release it in the jungle, and it is afraid of rabbit or mice or anything, because it’s unknown things.

It was the same reaction of the American public to the missiles there. Because Cuban Missile Crisis was one hundred percent American psychological crisis.

They thought that when the missiles will be ready, Soviets will launch them. And we have to take -- take them out as soon as we can. They were ready from the first day of the crisis.

Of course, nobody want to launch them. But you cannot explain mob that’s rolling, it’s unreasonable.

Why you think that they will launch them from Cuba not from the mainland? It only fifteen minutes -- fifty minutes -- even thirty minutes difference in the deployment.

Such people in such mental condition wouldn’t understand this. So the two leaders have to work in the very difficult environment.

And they decided that they can communicate with each other, because -- and negotiate. Not first shoot, then think. But first think, then think another time, and then don’t shoot at all.

And we are lucky that Khrushchev and Kennedy were strong leaders, because strong leaders don’t want to think that they can be looked weak.

They know that I’m strong. I’m not care that my negotiations can -- somebody can interpret it in other way. They cannot do it.

So they easy negotiate with each other. And when you negotiate, not impose ultimatums that you have to just accept our conditions or, it’s absolutely unreasonable.

So they started negotiations from the very beginning, and they negotiated to the bargaining, as they say, to the condition acceptable to both sides.

We Americans will not invade Cuba. We Soviets will take our missiles out. We’re satisfied. You’re satisfied.

Of course, after that American propaganda presented the huge victory, because they tell, “No. But we have no plans to invade Cuba.”

And when I asked Secretary McNamara about this, he told, “No. We never decided to invade Cuba.” I told, “Did you have plan to?” He told, “No. What you are talking about? We haven’t even planned to war with France.”

But the Soviet intelligence knew that it was the plan to invade Cuba in October 1964. So they negotiated this and they -- that increased their trust to each other.

After that, they decided that they can work together.

And we know that President Kennedy American University speech when he told, “We have to deal with United -- with Soviet Union.” I will not repeat you what president said, but I was present in the meeting of the Soviet Defense Council where Khrushchev told, "We are very different with Americans."

The American president defend their own national interest. I defend my national interest, Russian Soviet.

But we have one in common. We want to preserve peace in the world, and we can work together on this.

And this very successful first step. They signed nuclear test ban treaty.

They make this direct line borrowing or renting payoff-wise from the -- on the telegraph cable from Western Union. They were ready to negotiate the June flight to the moon. President Kennedy was offered Khrushchev.

And I thought the -- if Khrushchev told at that time that when we will have four hundred warheads and we will be safe, and we have to say that we will not accept the local wars, because if somebody will start war, we will use nuclear weapons first day.

Because he told, it is two powers in the world. It’s a small country backed with the superpower.

Losing side will be used -- use nuclear weapons not to destroy. So let’s say we do it and we will save our resources and we will reduce our armed forces, I repeat it to the half a million, and we’ll stop production of conventional forces.

And, you see, even with all problems with the fight in between hawks and doves on both sides, even the Soviet Union do this, I think that NATO will also reduce their armed forces.

And I think if Kennedy will stay in power until late ‘69 it will be very different world. And Khrushchev, of course, and maybe Cold War will finish at that time. We'll fly together to the moon and many other things.

But Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Khrushchev was ousted of power in 1964, and their successors started new round of the Cold War. So this is the Cuban Missile Crisis in short story.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it’s very interesting to hear the other side of the story. Thank you.

SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: So read my books. It is in the "Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower" and then big articles about this in the -- this Khrushchev in power.

The burden of the superpower, because I try to add some philosophy on these things.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today. SERGEI KHRUSHCHEV: Oh, you’re welcome. LESLIE McCARTNEY: We really enjoyed speaking with you.