Cuban Missile Crisis: Son of K. Gives View From CCCP


In American Heritage, Sergei Khrushchev gives his father's view of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. (The article is from 2002, but I haven't seen it before.) As you might expect, in Krushchev's telling the Soviets are just a bunch of peacable guys minding their own business when the Yanquis start causing trouble, but the article contains some interesting bits for aficionados. Krushchev notes that the famous meeting between Robert F. Kennedy and Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was not the first time those two got together during the crisis. (Either that or he's claiming the entire RFK/Dobrynin negotiation channel gets "almost no mention" in the popular histories, which is not true: Even the movie 13 Days makes that negotiation a major plot point.) Amid all the hubbub about Judy Miller's allowing herself to become a White House tool, it's also instructive to remember how ABC correspondent John Scali was acting on specific government instructions in sending messages to the Russians. But the most interesting thing is what a major wild-card role Fidel Castro played before and during the crisis. According to Krushchev, in the 1959-60 period, when the U.S. was still trying to figure out whether Castro would go commie, the USSR was equally in the dark:

The arrival in Havana of the partisan fighter Fidel Castro on January 1, 1959, and Fulgencio Batista's flight, attracted little attention in Moscow. When Father asked for information about Cuba, it turned out there was none to give him. Neither the Communist Party Central Committee's International Department, KGB intelligence, nor military intelligence had any idea who Castro was or what he was fighting for. Father advised them to consult Cuba's Communists; they reported that the newcomer was a representative of the haute bourgeoisie and working for the CIA.

In 1960 Father decided to send his deputy Anastas Mikoyan to Cuba to discover what motivated Castro. Mikoyan was an intelligent man and an outstanding negotiator and diplomat. He visited Father at the dacha on the eve of his departure, and I remember one small episode. A group of us went for a walk, and one of Father's aides reported on Castro's recent trip to Washington to meet President Eisenhower. No one had any reliable information. The aide tried to persuade the group that Castro was an American agent, or at least ready to dance to the White House's tune. You couldn't trust him: That was the Kremlin's view of Castro at the time.

(Whole article here.) Castro continued to be an unpredictable asset for the Russians during the missile crisis. In this version, most of the big crisis moments—shooting down the U2, firing on the F-8Us—were either ordered or strongly encouraged by The Beard, against the wishes of the Kremlin.

Krushchev, on the other hand, emerges once again as the Cold War's Rommel—the principled commie who earns the grudging respect of the West. (Speaking of which, here's an interview between a July Plot buff and the Desert Fox's son.) The possibly fake memoir Krushchev Remembers is a book with a million highlights, well worth the 43-cent Amazon price.