Almost 50 years have passed since that time and though the event is being researched by many historians and experts, there are still many mysteries surrounding it.
Valentin Falin, former Soviet diplomat, historian and foreign policy adviser of Nikita Khrushchev, will help us with the tangled web of the Missile Crisis.
What was the crisis background?
First, I’d like to say that on October 28, 1962, a message from Khrushchev was broadcast on Radio Moscow, today’s Voice of Russia, right from this office on Pyatnitskaya Street. Leonid Ilichev(the-then secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party) said that, "the Soviet government, has issued a decree on the dismantling of the weapons and their return to the Soviet Union."
As for the crisis itself, every event has its background and the missile conflict was not an exception.
When John F. Kennedy took the helm in January 1961, he stated that Cuba and Vietnam were the top priorities on the nation’s agenda and that he would personally control them and any actions in the regions should be approved by him.
Let’s leave Vietnam for now. As for Cuba, it saw its first crisis in 1954.
What happened then?
Americans imposed their missiles on France to control Viet Cong.
You mean the Communist government of North Vietnam?
Not quite. Viet Cong was the national liberation movement against decolonization of Indochina. The US agreed to decolonization but wanted to control the region instead. However, Paris refused and the US resorted to what its generals called “bombing” Indochina into the Stone Age. But that’s a different story.
Cuba has its peculiarities, first of all being located some 80-100 km from the US coast.
Back then, the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista collapsed on January 1, 1959. Americans thought that two years were not enough for Fidel Castro to stand firm.
Thousands of Batista’s supporters fled the island mainly going to the US. This was the fifth column which could have been used against Cuba and comprised more people than Castro-led students.
The confrontation resulted in the Playa Giron operation. In April 1961,it was the landing site for seaborne forces of armed Cuban exiles in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, an attempt to overthrow the new government of Fidel Castro.
It took Castro three days to shatter the CIA masterminded operation, capture the invaders and make the US choose: either to be good neighbors or…
Americans chose the latter option and began to preparethe Operation Mongoose secret program. It was planned by Kennedy’s brother Robert and a group of 400 people.
The project aimed to "help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime and a revolt by September-October 1962".
At that time, I worked as Nikita Khrushchev’s aide and attended his Vienna meeting with Kennedy on June 4, 1961. There, Kennedy took responsibility for the failed Playa Giron operation and pledged not to target Cuba anymore. He lied.
However, Khrushchev would have been too naïve to trust the President more than intelligence data about a new US operation.
He also doubted Kennedy’s words about good relations and solving problems in Europe together. I know all this because I worked with Nikita Khrushchev on all his messages to Kennedy in the period from November 1961 till the summer of 1963.
The US words didn’t meet its actions, when America deployed its mid–range and first strike missiles in Turkey and Italy.
What other reaction would you expect, when the US was narrowing the nuclear ring around the USSR and its allies, stifling them with its nukes.
Then, Khrushchev decided to make a deal with Fidel on deploying Soviet mid-range missiles on Cuba. Maybe, he was prompted by the military.
Was it his personal initiative?
As far as I know, it was, and please note, that it was not officially decided by the Central Politburo of the Communist Party.
Which contradicts the typical Soviet collective decision-making.
Yes, we had this style both in our minds and documents, but everything going on in the country and its foreign policy was decided by our new leader Nikita Khrushchev alone. I’m telling you all this to make one point. In June 1963, Khrushchev went on holidays to Pitsunda resort. Later, he ordered Oleg Troyanovsky, the Soviet envoy to the UN, and me to prepare an official explanatory note of his decision to deploy missiles on Cuba.
Was he trying to justify himself?
Yes, it was a year after the crisis. I don’t want any speculations on the issue as I was part of the events and know the truth. Khrushchev thought that it was the fault of the military and wanted Politburo to voice his perspective. Khrushchev said that the military assured him that they would deploy Soviet missiles in a special way so that the US wouldn’t find out.